There was a bit of controversy about Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, when it first debuted nearly seven decades ago, and it concerned the subject matter — the ghastly return of a deceased wife into the life of her widowed husband. Surely, Mr. Coward, folks proclaimed, this is the stuff of gothic fiction, not a comedy.
Well, except for the fact that it really is funny. Chalk it up to the playwright’s gift for dead-on dialogue as well as understanding a simple truth about storytelling: placing a character in a fantastic situation can be an extremely effective means of revealing truths about the human condition.
Here’s the premise: Charles (played by Justin Tyler Lewis) is a novelist researching mediums and séances for his next work of fiction. He invites Madame Arcati (Susie Hallatt) to a dinner party to glean insight on the “tricks of the trade.” Unfortunately, the séance accidentally releases the spirit of his first wife, who died years before.
That tends to be a tad inconvenient for a gentleman who has since remarried.
The resulting territorial tug of war, with unlucky Charles caught in the middle, is roll-on-the-floor hilarious. The idea of one of the wives being a spirit returned from the hereafter is a nice touch of fantasy, but the verbal jabs and pointed questions are the stuff all of us know from navigating the waters of romance.
When new wife Ruth (Priya Paranthaman) asks Charles to whom he is referring when he finally screams, “Darling, stop!,” there is no safe answer for the poor chap.
The entire cast of characters seemed to be having great fun performing this one. With a lesser group of actors, Hallatt would have absolutely stolen the show with her portrayal of an eccentric clairvoyant with a taste for cucumber sandwiches. The breezy panache that Lewis brought to the role of Charles would suit him well at many a local cotillion, and both Paranthaman and Jan A. Gilbert, first wife Elvira, play the part of leisure-class divas to a T.
Charleston Stage made a great call bringing this one to the stage in October. This is an absolute delight for those on the prowl for some spooky but lighthearted fun.
In fact, it would be wonderful if more people involved in putting shows together during the Halloween season would take note of why a play like this has such enduring appeal: storytelling, comedy, and subtlety make ghosts come to life in a way that chainsaws and gore never will.
A special nod must go to set and lighting designer Stefanie Christensen. The lighting effects are key to achieving the spooky haunted house feel this particular play needs, and these were not only effective but simply gorgeous as well. It is no small task to light a stage in a manner that lends such emotional nuance. Well done.
The secret to the success of this one seems to lie in the balance between the obvious professional touch and the lighthearted fun. Everything from the lines to the light cues have obviously been polished to a fine point, but no one seems to be taking the roles too seriously.
When a show is meant to be fun and the actors are having fun, it is a pretty fair bet that the audience is going to have fun as well.
And, hey, in a list of reasons to go out to see a show, fun ought to be at the top. Stay cool. Support City Paper. City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.