The Spirits are Restless

In an attempt to learn “the tricks of the trade” for a new book, novelist Charles Condomine takes part in a séance conducted by the eccentric Madame Arcati who inadvertently summons the spirit of Charles’ late wife, Elvira.  The trouble is that Charles has remarried and now he’s literally caught between two worlds as each wife wants him for herself.  This is Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward and currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

I was a little surprised to learn that this play was actually written in the early 1940s because it has the feel of a 1920s play with its drawing room style of writing.  While Coward’s idea is a gem, this play was definitely a play for its time or earlier due to its incredibly talky nature.  Plays of this type require colossal amounts of energy to keep the interest of today’s audiences and credit is due to the cast of BLT’s production for mustering all of the positives possible out of the show.

Todd Uhrmacher provides a solid bit of direction for this show.  He has a good instinct for movement and has his performers continually animate the scenes which helps liven up the massive amount of dialogue supplied by the characters.  He’s also coached his actors well.  Each and all give well defined, focused performances.

Strong supporting performances are provided by Sherry Fletcher as Edith, a maid who has to physically keep herself from rushing throughout the house and who is more than she seems and by Ruth Rath as the daffy Madame Arcati.  Ms Rath has definitely picked up on Madame Arcati’s weirdness and I think she has a bit of room to make her peculiarities even more pronounced.

Gene Hinkle is very, very British as Charles Condomine.  Epitomizing the British ideal of having a stiff, upper lip, Hinkle’s Charles could teach a masterclass in patience and control as he always has a tight grip on his emotions even when his world gets turned upside down by Elvira’s return.  Hinkle cuts a very elegant figure with a strong well modulated voice that makes for an ideal Charles.  But I thought his performance could have been even funnier if he would have lost some of that incredible control when his world began falling to pieces.

Therese Rennels makes for a beautifully understated shrew as Elvira.  Ms Rennels strikes the perfect tone of snide with Elvira’s interactions with Charles and blithely snaps off verbal ripostes in her “conversations” (only Charles can actually see or hear her) with other characters.  Her Elvira is an incredibly selfish individual.  It’s always about her and her wants even when what she wants isn’t really what she wants.  Ms Rennels also has a good sense of pantomime as she rattles off a series of amusing gestures to the characters that can’t see or hear her.

I found Marti Carrington to be the most amusing character of the night with her rendition of Ruth, Charles’ current wife.  Like her husband, Ms Carrington’s Ruth is the very, very proper and stoic British woman, but Ms Carrington brings a vital and needed energy when Ruth begins to collapse in the second act due to Elvira’s machinations and disruptions.  Ms Carrington melts into a hysterical, weeping mess while never letting Ruth’s disintegration go overboard.

Energy is truly what the show needed last night as the sheer bulk of dialogue can be wearying to both cast and audience alike.  A brisker pace and tighter cue pickups would greatly aid in maximizing the show’s comedy.

The technical elements were quite strong.  A Joey Lorincz set is always one of the highlights of a BLT production and this is no exception with the gorgeous sitting room of the Condomine estate with its massive crackling fireplace, wood bookcase, and understated elegance of the furniture.  Todd Uhrmacher’s costumes evoke wealth and class.  I also thought the special effects of spectral paintings and flying knick knacks were exceptional.

This show’s style is going to require a bit of patience on the part of the audience.  The idea is genuinely humorous, the script does have some good zingers and a few twists and surprises, but it takes its time getting there.  But a strong group of performers (with a splash of more energy) will help audiences reach the payoff.

Blithe Spirit continues at Bellevue Little Theatre until Feb 4.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets prices are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students with valid ID.  For tickets, contact 402-291-1554 between 10am-4pm, Mon-Fri.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.


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