Written by Noel Coward
Directed by David McConaughy
At the Leverett House Old Library
HAVE you every gone to a play that was so good that you never wanted it to end? It's similar to the reverse anxiety you feel watching a really bad play that never seems to end. So you can imagine the extent of my anxiety while watching Leverett House's Blithe Spirit, which was both incredibly good and incredibly long.
Though one didn't exactly feel like a blithe spirit sitting through the entire three hours of the play, the time factor happily had no effect on the quality factor of this production. And in fact, the cast and crew are to be commended for putting together what could potentially have been one of the biggest snoozers of the season.
Granted, Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit is a funny play, but it's not exactly his funniest. Coward shows us his darker side in this play about a middle-aged man's troubled relationship with his two wives, one of whom has been dead for seven years.
At the outset of the play, we are introduced to Charles Condomine (Peter Hirsch) and his present wife Ruth (Elizabeth Humphrey), who are living a peaceful life in the English countryside. But peace is disturbed when Charles calls upon local psychic Madame Arcati (Traci Miadich) to assemble information for one of his new books. With the appearance of Charles's dead wife Elvira (Holly Cate), the humdrum existence of the Condomines is completely overturned.
To this central quartet of characters, a comic trio is added. Elizabeth Dibbern as the Condomines' space cadet maid affects a Cockney accent that no doubt would make Eliza Doolittle proud. Both Blake Spraggins as Dr. Bradman and Valerie Steiker as Mrs. Bradman have enviable English accents. Yet it is the timing of these actors that makes their performances so strong.
COWARD'S plays rely on the lightning speed of witty repartee, which is rapid even for the British stage. Indeed, a quick pace seems to pervade the characters' every action. Elizabeth Humphrey as Mrs. Condomine affects a no-nonsense, secretarial air that perfectly fits, as her husband would say, her "glacial nature." As Humphrey's high strung counterpart, Peter Hirsch also seems to have had one too many cups of Sanka before the performance. This freneticism however, appears to be appropriate to Charles' character.
Hirsch's Charles epitomizes the dilemma of having too much of a good thing. Bigamy normally isn't considered a funny topic. Yet the way Hirsch manages to deal with his world as it falls around his knees is funny. The simper on his face expresses the utter absurdity of his situation. As he tries to explain to Ruth: "Why should having a cheese thing after lunch make me see my deceased wife after dinner?"
Indeed, why should it? Holly Cate, in sparkly Jem doll-like attire, is the third player of this astral menage a trois and the menace behind this confusion. As Charles' deceased wife, she does every-thing in her power to win her husband over to the other side. Charles consequently calls Madame Arcati, played by the effervescent Valerie Steiker, upon the scene to exorcise Elvira's spirit from the house.
Director David McConaughy seems to be the only one in the production not preoccupied with time constraints. In the Leverett production, the longer, more accepted version of Coward's Blithe Spirit is employed. One really can't complain about the length. But when there are 10-minute intermissions between each of the three acts, one tends to get a little irked.
But having to linger a little longer to watch this quality cast perform is no real punishment at all. And by all counts, you are guaranteed to walk out of the theater just as blithely as you came.