Blithe Spirit? Super, naturally…

by Gerry Roe

Old Creamery – The Old Creamery Theatre’s production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit opened with a Thursday matinee and settled in for a good run through November 14. The timing of the production couldn’t be better; in late October we begin to think of ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Tom Milligan not only directed the well-paced production but designed an attractive, cozy living room in which the action of the play Coward called an “improbable farce” could unfold. It’s just the sort of room in which the improbable becomes possible.

Sean McCall plays Charles Condimine, a successful author living in Kent with his
second wife, Ruth (Deborah Kennedy). Their household includes an unseen cook and a new unskilled maid, Edith (Carrie Novell). To gather background material for his next book, Charles arranges for a séance to be conducted by a neighbor, the eccentric Madame Arcati (Marquetta Senters), a professional medium. Charles has invited the local physician, Mr. Bradman (David Tull) and his wife (Kristy Hartsgrove) to make up the foursome stipulated by Madame Arcati. The unintended result of the séance is the sudden appearance of the ghost of Elvira (Jackie McCall), Charles’s first wife, visible—and audible-only to Charles. Then, as they say, complications ensue.

Most of the actors are very familiar to Old Creamery audiences. One of the particular joys for me is watching familiar actors apply their skills to developing different characters. For example, Sean McCall and Deborah Kennedy must find the means to convince us that they are a devoted couple, then allow us to see the weak spots in their characters as Charles and Ruth begin to see each other in a new light. Can Charles adapt to a more demanding, domineering Ruth? Can she trust Charles? As they grow less content with each other their physical and vocal manners alter accordingly. Similarly, Charles and Elvira move beyond the strangeness of their spectral reunion through a weird sort of second honeymoon in their delight in each other’s company, to their ultimate dissatisfaction with each other. Sean and Jackie McCall more than meet the challenges of letting us in on their emotions.

The Bradmans could be just stock characters required by the story line but David Tull and Kristy Hartsgrove dig into these characters and individualize them. There is a lovely little bit with a glass of brandy in the second act that tells us perhaps all we need to know about the doctor and his wife and their relationship.

The role of Edith is deceptively difficult but Carrie Novell is surely on the right track. As she continues in this oddly paced role, she will undoubtedly capture the rhythm that will make her character even more convincing.

What can I say about Marquetta Senters as Madame Arcati? Senters brings to the role great exuberance and invention combined with the extraordinary mobility of her features and her masterful comic timing. She is a joy to watch. I hope I can be forgiven for mentioning her commanding performance in another play. On the previous Sunday I saw her play Martha in Who’s Afraid of Viriginia Woolf, a bravura performance of an enormously difficult role and I am grateful for having seen it.

An unhallowed afterthought: It might be interesting to speculate on how this play might have been developed by another writer. Imagine how a playwright with a bent more psychological than comic might treat this story of a man who rids himself of the ghosts of his marriages with no apparent regret and now feels “free…and enjoying it immensely.”

For a play written nearly 70 years ago, the script has aged very well. This production will age well, too. See it if you can.

Gerry Roe is an actor and director, having been seen onstage at Riverside Theatre, the Iowa City Community Theatre, the University Theatre, and Dreamwell Theatre. He is a lifetime member of the Iowa City Community Theatre.

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