The longest running show on the West End in London made its way across the Atlantic Ocean and landed at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison.
“Blithe Spirit,” a play by Noël Coward, was written in only six days after Coward was fleeing his London office after it was being bombed in 1941 in the midst of World War II.
Now, almost 80 years later, Coward’s play is still shown throughout the world.
Set in London, novelist Charles Condomine (Brent Harris) invites a clairvoyant, Madame Arcati (Tina Stafford), to his home for a dinner party with his wife Ruth (Kate MacCluggage) and another couple, Dr. Bradman (Ames Adamson) and his wife (Monette Magrath).
Condomine claims he invites Madame Arcati over to gain information on her, as well as her abilities, for an upcoming novel he is writing. However, it is clear Condomine doesn’t believe in her abilities, like the other dinner guests, and they just want to poke fun at the woman who they believe is a loon.
When Madame Arcati performs her séance in the Condomine’s home, she collapses; and all appears normal, like nothing even has occurred. The Bradmans eventually return home, after Dr. Bradman helps Charles get Madame Arcati to wake. She leaves, as well, but not before making it a point to note she feels something is different from before she performed her séance.
Now alone in their house, Charles and Ruth begin to retire for the evening. But when Charles’ first wife Elvira (Susan Maris), who died seven years earlier, appears, he believes he is going insane.
Downing brandy after brandy, Charles tries to make the apparition go away. When he tries to tell current wife Ruth what is going on, she believes he is trying to play a trick on her.
Realizing only he can see and hear Elvira, he tries to tell her to return from whence she came. Not knowing how she appeared herself, Elvira has fun running around the Condomine home and playing with her former husband.
Ruth tries to talk with her husband, but his attention is only on the apparition. Yelling at Elvira to leave, Ruth thinks he means her and goes to bed in anger.
Now falling asleep on the couch, with the help of a few more glasses of brandy, Charles is convinced Elvira is really back.
The next morning, Charles wakes to no sign of Elvira at all. He believes it was all in his head and is in a cheery mood. Ruth, who is still in mad over their argument from the night prior, listens to Charles as he tries to tell her once again he really did see his former wife, but now she is gone.
Eventually appearing again, Elvira toys with Charles once more and again Ruth is getting angry with him.
Charles tries to convince his current wife to believe his former wife is quite possibly there, and Ruth begins to believe Charles is actually seeing something. Not an apparition, but a hallucination.
Ruth, now patronizing her husband, tries to get him to lay down. Charles, who is getting angry himself, wants nothing more than Ruth to believe him.
Finally, Charles convinces Elvira to move things throughout the house, and the first act closes with Ruth petrified by the existence of the apparition in her home.
Blithe Spirit was brilliant!
So far, in my time – 10 weeks – covering productions for TimeOFF, this has been my absolute favorite. The play is hilarious, witty and entertaining. Every actor in the play is sincere and I could not find one single error throughout the entire production. It was such a fun evening, and I recommend this to anyone who is looking for a night out at the theater.
Tina Stafford as Madame Arcati was the best part of the show! Every time she entered the stage she was met by anticipation from the audience as to what whacky thing she would do next. From dancing around the room to collapsing on the floor, Stafford truly embodied Coward’s vision as to what Madame Arcati should be. It was such a pleasure to watch.
Susan Maris as Elvira was also a joy. The whimsical ghost swept across the stage in her white gown and flowing shawl. Her spunky attitude was fun to watch as she clashed with Kate MacCluggage’s Ruth, who was very stern.
Kate MacCluggage as Ruth brought a sophisticated view to the show. Her severe but witty attitude was enjoyable, and MacCluggage was a great part of the show.
‘Blithe Spirit,’ continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, 36 Madison Ave. Madison, through September 2. www.shakespearenj.org. 973-408-5600.