Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
I’ll Be Loving You… Always? – A charming “Blithe Spirit” in Whittier
Of all the plays Noel Coward wrote in a long and storied career, “Blithe Spirit” may be the most fun. As always, a toss-up of society norms, it offers up a clever mix of mysticism, human foibles, misunderstandings and outrage, with a little class consciousness thrown in for good measure. Never quite slapstick, never too deep to be laughable, it offers up truly fun parts for actors to move into, and guaranteed laughs.
As proof take in the new, and quite polished production at Whittier Community Theatre. There this company shows off all its best stuff, from a delightfully appropriate set to the comic timing so necessary in a piece like this one.
The story begins innocently enough. Writer Charles Condomine lives with his second wife, Ruth, in a lovely country house. As part of research for his new book, he invites a local woman with a long history as a medium, Madame Arcati, to conduct a seance at his house. She proves to be quite a character, entertaining both the Condomines and their equally skeptical friends the Bradmans as she warms up for the deed itself. Still nobody, not even the new and rather awkward maid, could be prepared for what Madame Arcati conjures up.
Director Roxanne Barker has gathered together a highly polished cast, and has a tight understanding of comic timing. As a result, this thing hums along from laugh to laugh with a deceptive effortlessness.
Norman Dostal proves impressive as the rather quickly nonplussed Charles. Combined with the equally sharp renditions of Shannon Fuller as Ruth and Andrea Stradling as the seance’s surprise, the central comedy hums like a top. It’s a delight to watch. Lauri Boehlert finds the balance in Madame Arcati, making her a bit outrageous but serious about her craft, and avoiding the temptation toward buffoonery which often weakens the part. It is Arcati’s very earnestness which cements the humor – a much more satisfying outcome.
Richard De Vicariis and Patty Rangel, as Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, also play it straight, becoming charming witnesses to the increasingly unpredictable Condomine household. Julie Kirkman has a ball with the inept country girl trying to quell her impulse to dash everywhere – the Condomine’s new maid.
Kudos to set designer Suzanne Frederickson for making really terrific use of the Whittier Community Center stage, and creating a convincing country house. Nods also to Karen Jacobson and Shon LeBlanc for period- and character-appropriate costumes.
Indeed, the only troubling thing about this production had to do with the microphones they have place to carry the voices of the actors when they are upstage. They ring hollow, and seem cranked up a bit too high, bringing artificiality to an otherwise neatly polished production.
“Blithe Spirit” is just fun, and this is a good version. Also entertaining is the music between scenes, all of it music of Noel Coward’s, and some of it even sung by him. How much more in the spirit of the thing can you get?
What: “Blithe Spirit” When: Through June 16, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Where: Whittier Community Theatre at The Center Theatre, 7630 Washington Ave. in Whittier How Much: $12 general, $10 seniors/students Info: (562) 696-0600 or ww.whittiercommunitytheatre.org