Melissa Jo York-Tilley Interviews Cast Members of Prince William Little Theatre’s ‘Blithe Spirit’

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Looking for something to lift your spirits after this interminable winter? Take a comedic trip with Prince William Little Theatre back to the early 1940’s to a charming English country home for a cup of tea, or maybe a séance, in PWLT’s upcoming production of Blithe Spirit.

PWLT Blithe Spirit GS

Blithe Spirit is a comedic play by Noel Coward in which one of the main characters, Charles, plans a séance as research for his new book. He invites the eccentric medium Madam Arcarti into his English country home intending to expose the Madam as a fraud. To witness this event, Charles and his second wife, Ruth, invite their neighbors Dr. Bradman and his wife Violet. When, in the course of the séance, Madam Arcarti mistakenly summons Charles’ first wife, Elvira, back from the beyond, things become thoroughly out of hand. Comedy materializes as the beleaguered Charles is caught between two wives in two worlds and must decide if life is indeed grayer on the other side.

Director Mary-Anne Sullivan is thrilled to return to PWLT in a directorial capacity after performing with PWLT in The Women (2010) and Red Scare on Sunset (2012), and having a very warm, friendly and creatively satisfying experience each time with this theatre company. PWLT performs in the perfect facility to mount this tech-heavy production at the Hylton Center for the Performing Arts. Mary-Anne feels it has been most rewarding to work with such a splendid cast on this production and I know audiences will simply adore them!

Tegan Cohen (Elvira), Matthew Scarborough (Charles), and Caity Brown (Ruth). Photo by David Harback.
Tegan Cohen (Elvira),
Matthew Scarborough (Charles), and Caity Brown (Ruth). Photo by David Harback.

The actors playing Charles, Ruth, Elvira, and Dr. Bradman in the upcoming Blithe Spirit had some interesting thoughts about the play and bringing it to life at the Hylton Performing Arts Center.

Matthew Scarborough will be playing Charles Condomine. This show will mark Matthew’s PWLT debut. He most recently appeared in Into The Woods (Sterling Playmakers) as Cinderella’s Prince, as Stuart Gellman in Caroline, Or Change (Elden Street Players), and/or as himself in Tomfoolery (Elden Street Players). When he is offstage, Matthew works as an elementary special education teacher.

Tegan Cohen will be portraying Elvira. Tegan last appeared at Prince William Little Theatre in Arcadia (Chloe) and Noises Off (Brooke/Vicki).  A proud 2012 graduate of The Theatre Lab’s Honors Acting Conservatory and caffeine peddler by day, Tegan is also a prolific napper, unabashed word nerd, sometimes hair model, and frequently lost in thought.

Caity Brown will be portraying Ruth, and is happy to be making her debut with PWLT. Most of her work in the area has been on the other side of the Potomac, and includes: The Cover of Life (Bowie Community Theatre), Crimes of the Heart (Prince George Little Theatre), Moon Over Buffalo (Prince George Little Theatre), Stop Kiss (Silver Spring Stage), Loose Knit (Taking Flight Theatre Company, Doubt (Greenbelt Arts Center), and I Remember Mama  (Rockville Little Theatre). This marks her 25th show since graduating with a degree in drama from Vassar College not quite seven years ago. Now she is currently a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University, where her specialty is sub-Saharan African politics.

Mrs. Bradman, Doctor Bradman, Mdme Arcati, Charles, & Ruth. Photo by David
Mrs. Bradman (Fatima Razi) , Doctor Bradman (Paul D. Rubenstein), Mme Arcati  (Terresita Edwards), Charles (Matthew Scarborough), and Ruth (Caity Brown). Photo by David Harback.

Paul D. Rubenstein will be playing Dr. Bradman. Blithe Spirit marks Paul’s fourth show with PWLT, having also appeared in Bye Bye Birdie (ensemble), The Underpants (the King), and The Homecoming (Birdshot). An English teacher by day, Paul also runs the Improv Club at Fairfax High School and coaches the Theatresports team.  Additionally, Paul performs with ComedySportz at The Comedy Spot in Arlington. Paul has also recently made his web series debut in Shotgun Mythos as Falcon.

Melissa Jo: What made you want to be part of PWLT’s Blithe Spirit?

Matthew: I wanted to be a part of PWLT’s Blithe Spirit because of the quality of the play itself, the quality of the people involved in this production, the quality of the PWLT productions I’d seen previously, etc. Plus, how often does one have the chance to do a show with multiple intermissions? Talk about epic.

Caity: I think many actresses and actors hope that at some point in their career they will be able to perform in Blithe Spirit. It has several really great roles, especially for women (which is sadly not the case in much of the “classic” theatre cannon). It’s also just a really good play, and an excellent example of British farce. When I auditioned for the play, I had just finished doing a drama set in the South, so I was looking to try something different.

Tegan: It was a great opportunity to do a classic play with some great female roles, each with lots of room for interpretation and playing. I also love wordy and/or British humor.

Paul: I have wanted to act in a Noel Coward play for a long time. Having directed and acted in Christopher Durang’s The Actor’s Nightmare,  which features a send-up of Coward’s Private Lives, I have since been intrigued by Coward’s wit and wanted to be involved in a production of one of his plays. Seeing and teaching Blithe Spirit back in 2004 cemented my desire to be in this particular play. Ten years later, that dream has come true.

What is something that surprised or excited you about Blithe Spirit? What might surprise your audience?

Matthew: I don’t want to give away any surprises; you’ll have to come see the show yourself in order to experience those. Suffice it to say, I was very excited by the vision and ideas that Mary-Anne and her counterparts brought to the table, as well as their openness and active encouragement of input from all others involved. This is an ideal breeding ground for creativity that unfortunately isn’t necessarily a given in all theatrical productions.

Caity: What I find exciting about Blithe Spirit is its verbal jousting and witty wordplay. An actor really has to be at the top of his or her game in order to make this play work. At the same time, I think the audience might be surprised at the great deal of visual and physical humor in the show, as well as the fact that although the play is British and from the 1940s, it is in no way staid—or stale.

Tegan: I think most people have this idea that both British people in general and people of this era are prim, proper, and very well-behaved. There’s a level of bawdiness and bad-behavior they might not be expecting.

Paul: I am excited about having had the opportunity to work with such a meticulous director who has helped me to experience my character in ways that I had not previously considered as an actor. I will definitely take some of these lessons and apply them both as an actor and a director for all my future endeavors.

What do you love most about your character?

Matthew:  I love Charles (as much as one can possibly love Charles) because he occasionally does his damnedest to be charming, good-natured, good-humored, and considerate (and he occasionally succeeds in doing so). I also love that it takes a great deal of energy to portray him, as he is a very often a whirling dervish of emotion throughout the course of the show.

Caity: What I like about Ruth is that she is one of the most “real” characters in the play. Unlike many of the others, she is not putting on a performance, or, to borrow a line from the play, trying to be “witty at all costs.” Her emotions are real, unrehearsed, and often, messy (as much as she would like them to be otherwise). Ultimately, I think this makes her one of the most sympathetic characters in the show.

Tegan: She’s a total brat, but still very smart. Elvira gets what she wants.

Paul: The thing I love the most about my character is that there is a depth to him that is not always seen in supporting roles. Audiences will certainly relate to some of the frustrations that Dr. Bradman has with regard to his wife and with Madame Arcati.

What has been most challenging for you in shaping your character and performance?

Matthew: Charles is dreadfully boorish and insensitive to the people around him, as well as painfully obtuse to the extent of his privilege. Finding as effective a tone and characterization as possible for some of the scenes in the play has required acknowledging and embracing these character flaws.

Caity: Ruth is a lead character, but she doesn’t drive the action as much as she reacts to the things happening around her—much of which she doesn’t entirely understand. The challenge for me has thus been ridding my performance as Ruth of my familiarity, as an actress, with the action of the play. To use actors’ parlance, I have to always be “in the moment” when playing Ruth. What’s more, given the inability of Ruth to perceive the spirits around her, what is “in the moment” for Ruth is often not the reality for the other characters onstage with her. I have lines that immediately follow those of Elvira, but as Ruth, I cannot hear Elvira. I have to be able to look straight at the actress playing Elvira and not have Ruth see her. To continue with actors’ parlance, I have to be totally committed to Ruth’s “truth” for the performance to work.

Tegan: The biggest challenge has been in pushing my personal comfort zones, playing up the “good-time girl” character. Elvira is a much “more physical” person than I am, both physically and figuratively; she carries herself differently, and is blatant where I prefer subtlety.

Paul: Probably the most challenging part of the process for me has been finding a balance between being skeptical and having fun doing it. It is very easy to tilt in either direction, which could make him either very curmudgeonly, (and rather unsympathetic) or very buffoonish.  Working with Mary Anne has helped me to find just that right balance, which will help add new layers to the relationships within the play.

Mrs. Bradman, Doctor Bradman, Mdme Arcati, Charles, and Ruth. Photo by David Harback.
Mrs. Bradman, Doctor Bradman, Madame Arcati, Charles, and Ruth. Photo by David Harback.

What makes PWLT’s production of Blithe Spirit special?

Matthew: Given the sheer magnitude of the script and the necessity of getting through it quickly, it might have been very easy to barrel through the show in a broad, lowbrow manner with caricatures rather than characters. This production aims to breeze through the material in a way that is both entertaining and substantive with characters rather than caricatures.

Caity: I can’t give anything away, but this is a version of Blithe Spirit that, while true to Coward, introduces some themes and elements that audiences may not have necessarily seen before with this play. That makes this version fresh and exciting even for the most experienced theatre-goer.

Tegan: Our chemistry, for one. We play well off one another. We’re a smart, offbeat bunch, and I think that will be evident to everyone when they see the delightfully unique surprises we have in store for them.

Paul: We have a great cast and crew who are ready to put on an amazing show. I am honored to work with the talented cast, staff, and crew of Blithe Spirit, and I am confident our audiences will enjoy their visit to the Condomine household and leave feeling rather blithe themselves!

Blithe Spirit is produced by Susy Moorstein and Don Petersen, and Stage Managed by Mary Brick.

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Blithe Spirit will be performed at the Gregory Family Theater in the Hylton Performing Arts Center -10960 George Mason Circle, in Manassas, VA. Performance dates are as follows:

• March 7, 2014 – March 8, 2014 at 8:00 pm
• March 9, 2014 at 2:00 pm
• March 14, 2014 – March 15, 2014 at 8:00 pm
• March 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Tickets are $15 for adults; $12 for Active Military, Senior Citizens and groups of 10 or more; $8 for children 11 years and younger. Tickets can be purchased online or in person through the Hylton Performing Arts Center box office. For more information, please visit PWLT’s website