by Terrance Mc Arthur
“Hail to thee, blithe spirit. Bird thou never wert.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that, and Noel Coward borrowed it in 1941 for the title of his play Blithe Spirit. Now, Coward’s play is at the Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theater through February 26.
Charles Condomine (Gordon Moore), a novelist, plans a séance to research his next story. The quirky medium he hires, Madame Arcati (Mary Piona), manages to raise the spirit of Charles’ first wife, Elvira (Britt Monahan). Elvira wants Charles back in her insubstantial arms, which does not please his present wife, Ruth (Liz Stoeckel). Things get complicated, with plans going awry, attempted exorcisms, and flying crockery.
One thing about a Noel Coward play—people talk a lot. There are more words than you’ll find in most plays not written by William Shakespeare. Noel Coward was famous for saying witty things, and he put loads of them into Blithe Spirit. The strange thing is, it’s fun to hear people saying witty things. Director Denise Graziani has them all said crisply, so the audience can savor each delicious word.
Moore is succinct yet broad, a master of reactions, putting more into an eyebrow than Rowan Atkinson could imagine. He careens from paranormal skepticism to delight at the return of his old love, to remembering all her faults without faltering. Moore is always a delight on stage, be the part supporting or a star role.
Piona is a pocket powerhouse in a classic character, one that has been played by everyone from Margaret Rutherford to Mildred Natwick, Geraldine Page, and Angela Lansbury. She bustles along with determination, a medium with meaning, a bit off the beaten path mentally, but eager to explore the ethereal world. Her trances are entrancing.
Stoeckel has the thankless task of portraying a normal person in abnormal circumstances and not reacting to a character in front of her. She is Charles’ last link to the real world, and is frustrated by what she perceives as his irrational fascination with a woman she can’t see.
Monahan is svelte, elegant, and possessive as Elvira (pronounced El-VEE-ra, not El-VIE-ra. This is English comedy, not an Oak Ridge Boys song or the Mistress of the Dark), the ghostess with the mostest. Costume goddess Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed has clothed her in a silver sheath that is arresting, and her initial appearance is managed with stage magic that would fit well in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.
Henry Montelongo and Sandra Montelongo pass through as Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, facilitators of the original séance. Brooke Rowland is a maid seemingly hired from the Ministry of Silly Walks, a young woman with more abilities than are at first apparent.
Some 75 years after Rex Harrison took the stage on its opening night, the enchantment of Blithe Spirit still captivates audiences. See it before it dematerializes from the 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive, between Wishon Ave. and Van Ness Ave. For information and tickets, go to www.gcplayers.com or call 559-266-0660 or 1-800-371-4747.
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