Word has it that English playwright Noël Coward took only five days to write Blithe Spirit during the full fury of World War II, which premiered just six weeks later in June 1941, creating a new long-run record for non-musical British plays of 1,997 performances. Somehow, even while the Germans were barraging London and the death toll was mounting, Coward instinctively knew that he had a wonderfully fanciful idea to compose an off-the-wall, black comedy about glib ghosts that may bring much needed laughter into the lives of war-weary people. Similarly, 74 years later, Everyman Theatre’s season-closing production offers Baltimore theatergoers a spectacularly delightful 150-minute diversion, following recent unrest, with its delicious revival of Coward’s timeless classic.
Set on a stylishly sparkling stage, adorned with alluring bright accents, including grand entry doors and a prominently displayed fireplace, exquisitely designed by Daniel Ettinger, Artistic Director Vincent M. Lancisi leads an all-star ensemble of movers and shakers who transport audience members to a glowing era brimming with dry martinis, posh country manors, and personal psychic visits.
Congruent with Coward’s original, novelist Charles Condomine (Bruce Randolph Nelson), hunting for some fresh writing material, invites a dynamically eccentric, bike-riding medium named Madame Arcati (Nancy Robinette) to his home to conduct a séance. Accompanying Condomine on his research endeavor are his second wife Ruth (Megan Anderson), are Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Carl Schurr and Helen Hedman). From the get-go, everyone is readily skeptical of her unique skill set until, that is, Arcati successfully summons and conjures up a spirit – Condomine’s mischievous, giggly, silk and pearls-clad late first wife, Elvira (Beth Hylton), much to the discomfiture of her successor, Ruth.
Nelson is convincing as the witty and, at times, sharply biting Condomine, keenly pivoting between moments of aristocratic aloofness and escalating waves of emotion. Anderson’s Ruth, donning a daring dark-haired bob and fashionably-fun flock (strikingly styled by Costume Design David Burdick), is catty, complex and society-conscious, commanding a take-charge attitude and intriguing presence. Together, Condomine and Ruth, as exhibited by their vigorous bantering, bordering on bickering, have a cool, companionable marriage that is, perhaps, more irreparably strained than either would ever publicly reveal. Conversely, Condomine’s scenes with the effervescent Elvira, colorfully depicted by Hylton, exude a distinguishable undercurrent of romantic energy and heat.
Celebrated DC actress and multiple Helen Hayes Award winner Nancy Robinette delivers a stellar performance in the plum role of Madame Arcati, delicately balancing the ridiculous with the real to achieve a notable level of authenticity topped with infectious enthusiasm and giddiness that instantly permeate the theater, prompting continuous eruptions of laughter. Rounding out the talented cast are Carl Schurr as prim and proper Dr. Bradman, Helen Hedman as the elegant and lovely Mrs. Bradman, and Julia Brandeberry as Edith, the spry, ready-to-sprint maid.
Rich with fine detail in the multi-layered characterizations, impressive special-effects staging and top-tapping transitional jazz interludes, Everyman’s production is truly an amusingly clever theatrical treat that will quickly draw you in and lift your spirits to new heights.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.