"Blithe Spirit," at Hale Centre Theatre West Valley
by Eric D. Snider
Published on October 1, 1999
"Blithe Spirit" at the Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley is a pleasant comedy, heavy on style and light on punch lines.
Set in England in 1930, the story revolves around novelist Charles Condomine (Bruce A. Bredeson) and his second wife Ruth (Jennifer Parker Hohl). His first wife died several years earlier, and during a seance whose sole purpose is to mock flighty medium Madame Arcati (Annette Wright), the first Mrs. Condomine is summoned back from the great beyond.
Thing is, Elvira Condomine (Randi Harrington) can only be seen and heard by Charles, who is driven to distraction by a dead wife who wants him back, and a living wife who thinks he's gone mad.
Charles is able to convince Ruth of Elvira's presence, though, merely by having the unseen home-wrecker pick up a few items and move them around ("floating" objects have a way of persuading one to believe in ghosts).
Now Ruth's attitude changes. No longer thinking her husband crazy, she is instead jealous of the meddling Elvira, who was irresponsible and carefree in life and seems to be so in death, as well.
This is a play full of banter, some of it genuinely funny, but most of it simply awash in primness, more clever and droll than laugh-out-loud funny.
That's the whole play, in fact: never dull, but never really hilarious either, though there are moments of great laughter. Elvira has a bit of inspired physical comedy as she is tormented by yet another ghost whom we can neither see nor hear, and Madame Arcati's scenes generally crackle with her insane energy and crazy-old-lady sensibilities. (Her line about riding her bicycle through the woods and being "absolutely deafened with birdsong" tickled me to no end.)
One has to admire playwright Noel Coward's devilishly cavalier attitude toward death, too -- much blacker humor in that department than one might expect from such an old and "proper" British play.
But even when we're not laughing, we're still entertained by the fabulous acting all the way around. The British accents are professional-quality -- much better than one usually hears in community theater, and having voices you can believe adds tremendously to a show's overall credibility.
Hohl, in particular, shines as Ruth, the much put-upon and increasingly impatient living wife. Though her situation is absurd, she is believable and engaging.
She is not alone. The entire cast works hard to be committed to their characters, making a play with few moments of true hilarity into something that is entertaining nonetheless.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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