Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 8, 2008

Blithe Spirit

Suffield Players
Mapleton Hall, Suffield
through May 17, 2008
May 1, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

All hail the incomparably gifted Noel Coward – dramatist, actor, writer, composer, lyricist, painter, and wit, knighted by Queen Elizabeth – whose impressive body of work lives on, including his bright comedy "Blithe Spirit," the latest star in the Suffield Players’ crown.

Charles (Christopher Berrien, so suave, whose glides and dips are reminiscent of Jackie Gleason), a novelist, is married to Ruth (Becky Schoenfeld, rather uptight), his second wife, while above the mantle hangs a picture of his first wife, Elvira (Rayah Martin, once a vamp, always a vamp) who has been dead and gone for seven years but not forgotten. Because Charles’ new novel’s plot will include the occult, he invites the eccentric Madame Arcati (Kelly Seip, delightfully dotty) to conduct a seance. Other guests are Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Bruce Showalter and Cynthia Lee Andersen, whose marriage must be a perfunctory bore). Forever one misstep away from a pratfall is the always-in-a-hurry maid, Edith (Brianna Stronk).

Throughout this three-act sophisticated romp, Coward’s impeccable dialogue entertains. Simple laugh lines include such non-sitcom words as didactic, puerile, obtuse, umbrage, and phrases such as "threw in the sponge and not the gauntlet" and "Concentrate! Think of nothing!" The cast spits out bantering at a steady clip and has a jolly good time doing so. Oh yes, they’re frightfully British, swig many martinis, and the real world is turned on its ear by the spirit world.

Veteran Seip squeezes every possible laugh out of the flighty Madame Arcati. Equally adept at comedic timing is Stronk whose previous roles include strong dramatic performances as Laura (The Glass Menagerie) and Catherine (The Heiress).

Director Robert Lunde works the Suffield Players magic on their latest arresting set -- the livingroom in a English country cottage designed by him and Konrad Rogowski

The history of "Blithe Spirit" invites name-dropping. At its 1941debut in England, the great Margaret Rutherford was Madame Arcati; on Broadway that same year, Mildred Natwick did the honors. Both actresses reprised their roles in the British and American film versions; and Natwick also in the 1956 U.S. television version. Although born 67 years ago, the play is ageless.