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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
By Barbara Mehlman
These airy specters work well in all sorts of situations, adding either trepidation or froth according to the intent of the writer. So when Noel Coward wanted to have some fun, he decided upon a ghost story. Blithe Spirit was written in six days during the Blitz of 1941, just weeks after German bombs had destroyed his office and attached apartment. Coward said he wanted to write a "very gay, superficial" comedy, and this he did to a fine turn.
Blithe Spirit, a feather-light fantasy that will tickle everyone's fancy, is currently running at Theatre 80 on St. Marks Place in the East Village, produced by that little gem of an acting troupe, The Pearl Theatre Company. Though the Company operates on a shoestring, in an old, fraying theatre that was once a movie revival house, it still manages to attract top acting talent, and the result is an uproariously funny farce played to perfection by an outstanding cast.
As the story opens, we meet Ruth and Charles Condomine (Joanne Camp and Doug Stender), an attractive, middle-aged couple in a contented but unsmoldering second marriage, preparing to greet their guests. Charles is a writer doing research for a book he's writing on the occult, and has invited, in addition to friends, a well-known medium to hold a sťance. His goal is to expose the woman as a fraud, and denounce her so-called supernatural gifts as nothing more than hocus-pocus.
Well, Madame Arcati (Delphi Harrington) arrives, does her mumbo-jumbo-rhubarb-rhubarb, and to Charles' utter astonishment, his gorgeous first wife, Elvira (Hope Chernov) pays him a visit from the "other side." Visible and audible only to Charles, she provokes him into quarreling with her. When he answers her back in anger, Ruth thinks he's talking to her. Coward's clever dialogue is written so that his answers to Elvira make sense as replies to Ruth's comments.
Ruth is obviously upset, and thinks her husband a bit mad. But when it's proven to her that Elvira is indeed present, the two try to exorcise her. Elvira, however, has no intentions of leaving without her former husband. She wants him with her for all eternity and has set about fixing things to cause Charles' demise. Her best laid plans "gang aft aglay " and Charles ends up with two ghostly wives to make his life ghastly. Poor Charles.
Joanne Camp is excellent as the sensible and sturdy Ruth, and Hope Chernov, in a pink satin peignoir set, is a smashing ghost—- literally. Delphi Harrington completes the trio of women, giving us a very dramatic Madame Arcati who's a perfect sendup of all those who purport to have supernatural powers.
But a large part of what makes this production so successful is how well-spoken all the actors are. Their British accents are accurate, their diction precise and their voices commanding. Would that all actors could speak so well. I lament the number of times I've had to do a "what did he say?" because an actor mumbled and his voice didn't project.
Coward has such a good time making mischief with marriage and mediums (if you have more than one medium, are they media?) and director Stephen Hollis does nothing to interfere with the fun. His light touch has given the actors freedom to spirit themselves around the Pearl's small stage and create a delicious souffle of a play.