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The 'Spirit' of Repartee and, er, Bonhomie

'Blithe Spirit' Actor Michael Schur '97 On Noel Coward's Unique Comedy

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The Crimson recently spoke with Michael H. Schur '97, who plays Charles Condomine in "Blithe Spirit," a comedy by Noel Coward showing at the Loeb Experimental Theater on October 26, 27 and 28. The play is directed by Terrell P. McSweeney '97, produced by Megan A. Mathews '96 and admission is free.

The Harvard Crimson: What do you think the attraction of "Blithe Spirit" is?

Michael H. Schur '97: Oh goodness. It's a very funny play. Well, the thing about it is there's a lot of physcial comedy in it that involves one person being on stage who can't be seen by everyone else, and my character talking both to the actual humans in the room and to this other person who is a ghost.

It's interesting because that sort of style of comedy seems very trite now. The reason it seems trite is because Coward invented it all those years ago. Or not invented it, but perfected it, molded it, crafted it, honed it, if you will. So, this is an archetypal piece in terms of stage comedy and farce.

THC: What is the difference in being on stage when there's laughter and there's no laughter (like being in rehearsal)? What does it do to your acting process?

MHS: First of all, in rehearsal you just have to trust that it's a funny play. You just have to take it on faith. This play has been done before and people have liked it, so you know just say the lines...this is where most of the work is going to be. As far as the timing goes, it's not a joke-heavy play. There's not a lot of one-liners, or zingers (that's a showbiz word for jokes). So it all sort of comes out of the conversation, the reparte, the bonhomie if you will, of the situation. So basically what it involves is just letting an audience know from the beginning that it's okay for them to laugh. After the first night we put in a little sort of schtick at the beginning with Dan[iel J.] Goor ['97], who plays the butler, who sort of comes out and does a sort of little funny thing. I'll let it be a surprise.

That sort of indicated to the audience that this was a comedy, and that they were relaxed and they should laugh at things. And then they did. As soon as they get in a rhythm of laughing at the funnier lines, you sort of come to expect it and although of course you can't wait for it, after you say them, you know that there's going to be some sort of response and that just sort of helps you raise your performance to the next level.

THC: What was the difference between working with this particular cast, with Alexis, Rebecca [R. Kirshner '96-97], Danton [Char '98], etc. verus, say, the cast of "The Nerd" or "The Living?"

MHS: [laughter] Can I plead the Fifth? No, I'm just kidding. This cast is fantastic. There's no way the play would have happened without the cast we have. A whole bunch of us were in the callback together, and even in the callback we agreed that things were happening already...I think that everyone is really strong. And it's totally an ensemble piece at the end...

THC: What was it like working with Terrell McSweeney, the director?

MHS: I've worked with Terrell before. This is the first show she's directed, but she's been around in theater circles stage managing and stuff for a long time. For a show that had three weeks to rehearse she did a very good job.

She's very functional and she got people to do what she wanted them to do. It would have been nice to sort of experiment and play around, but we didn't have time.

It was a long process and pretty trying on people's patience. Long in the sense of being short...you understand [laughter]. She was very good.

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