Blithe Spirit
Photo: Aaron Rumley.

Blithe Spirit

Written by Noël Coward
Directed by Rosina Reynolds
North Coast Repertory Theatre, Solana Beach
September 5 through October 7, 2018
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An author invites a self-proclaimed clairvoyant into his home with plans to observe her during a séance and mockingly incorporate her mannerisms into a character in his next murder mystery. But the cosmic joke is on him when the medium surprises everyone (including herself) by conjuring up the man’s dead wife in the uproarious “Blithe Spirit,” on stage at the North Coast Rep.

Written by Noël Coward nearly 80 years ago, the appeal and vitality of this spirited (pun intended) gem of a play are fully realized by a crackerjack cast and the inspired directing of Rosina Reynolds.

We first meet novelist Charles (J. Todd Adams) and his very much alive second wife, Ruth (Joanna Strapp) in their manor house preparing for the arrival of guests by downing a succession of martinis while chatting, in self-satisfaction, about their social status and the solidity of their marriage. Enter Doctor Bradman (Gil Berry) and Mrs. Bradman (Ava Burton), who Charles lets in on the jolly fun they can expect that evening at the expense of the village mystic. The foursome can barely suppress a case of the giggles when the arrival of Madame Arcati (Susan Denaker) is announced by the world’s most inexperienced and skittish maid, Edith (an endearing Michelle Marie Trester).

Soon Madame goes into a melodramatic trance, room lights flicker, a side table bucks like a bronco, and the party gains an additional guest in the form of the saucy ghost Elvira (Teagan Rose), visible only to an incredulous Charles. What follows are scenes that are a marvel to behold as British upper-crust veneer quickly begins to chip away as Charles is utterly unable to convince the others of the apparition in their midst and Ruth loses her cool as she begins to perceive him as mad.

“Shut up! You sound like a gutter snipe!” shouts Charles at the taunting, teasing Elvira who knows how to push her former husband’s buttons.

An indignant Ruth slowly turns and levels a menacing gaze in Charles’ direction thinking the insults are being hurled at her.

Secrets are revealed, mysterious “accidents” occur and the plot is propelled to a spirited and surprising conclusion.

The space, courtesy of set designer Marty Burnett and prop designer Holly Gillard, has all the trappings of a landed gentry drawing room: lavish carpets on hardwood floors, crown molding, fireplace with a marble mantle, leather-bound volumes lined up like soldiers in the build-in book cases and wall art of scarlet-coated men riding to hounds.

Costume designer Elisa Benzoni pulls out all stops with exquisitely detailed vintage dresses and gowns you’d love to see hanging in your closet at home.

Lynne Friedmann

San Diego ,
Lynne Friedmann, based in San Diego, is an award-winning, freelance writer of news, feature articles, and blogs on science, travel, and the arts. Her decades-long passion for theater was sparked as a teen when the Inner City Cultural Center commandeered classroom curricula by bringing classic plays to urban high schools in Los Angeles.