Encore Michigan

Noel Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit’ inhabits Great Escape Stage Co.

Review October 23, 2017 Bridgette Redman

MARSHALL, Mich.–Noel Coward created a play with unsympathetic characters so we would feel free to laugh at the situations they got themselves into.

Blithe Spirit, playing now at Great Escape Stage Company, starts with a séance in which Charles Condomine’s first wife, who has been dead for 14 years, is brought back from the other side and promptly begins making trouble for him and his second wife, Ruth.

Directed by John C. Sherwood, this production of Blithe Spirit is filled with special effects and ghostly fun. The set, designed jointly by Sherwood and Artistic Director Randy Lake, is sprawling and beautifully appointed. It serves very nicely as an upper-class home in the English countryside.

Emily Lemon is credited as the “ninja” who makes many of the special effects happen, giving the audience plenty of reasons to believe in hauntings.

While the director notes say that the script was cut to be “breezier and briefer,” it still came in at three hours with two ten-minute intermissions. Some of this is the script, some might be attributed to actor stumbles.

Standout performances were given by Lake as Charles Condomine and Jennifer Darling as Madame Arcati.

Lake consistently gives good performances at Great Escape and this turnout is no exception. He has great comic timing, moving with ease between the stuffy British author and the man shocked to learn what he didn’t believe in was true. He’s especially good in scenes where he’s moving back and forth addressing his current wife and his dead wife, who no one else can see. He has great pacing and interacts well with the others on stage. He makes the show worth watching.

Darling does a great job of playing the excitable medium. She has great energy and enthusiastically and unapologetically embraces the bizarre and otherworldly. She runs roughshod over the other characters, ones who are secretly laughing at Madame Arcati—laughing until she proves to be anything but a fraud. Darling has an original take on Madame Arcati, playing her as youthful and energetic, someone who is genuinely fun to watch.

Kelly VanRyswyk as the Elvira, the ghostly first wife and Kim Forde as Ruth, the very much alive second wife, create a contrast between their characters in the way they move and talk. Elvira is very flighty and naughty while Ruth is grounded and practical.

Forde’s performance, though is uneven. She has her moments where she is interesting and funny, but most of the performance is done at a single emotional level with facial expressions that feel forced rather than genuine. She also breaks the disbelief when several times she makes it clear she really can hear Elvira despite the script’s insistence that she can’t, because when she starts her line too early, she stops when Elvira starts speaking rather than continuing on as if she truly were oblivious to the ghost’s words.

And there are moments when the acting of others gets downright painful, especially when the doctor delivers his lines in a stilted fashion while staring at the stage floor rather than engaging those around him.

Kasey Worst’s Edith gets relatively little stage time, but she’s given the role of announcing scene transitions and she makes those fun and interesting.

Coward’s Blithe Spirit remains one of his more popular shows not just because of the fun but because of its social commentary. The characters are self-absorbed, all pursuing their own desires with little concern for the others around them. This leads them to bickering confrontations that reveal their true characters. The play continues to stand the test of time and is an entertaining Halloween offering in a production that will hopefully smooth out some of the rough edges as the run continues.

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