“Supernatural hilarity takes the stage as love and marriage devolve into laughter and mayhem in Noël Coward’s wickedly funny comedy.”
That is the official description for the Walnut Street Theater’s latest stage production, ‘Blithe Spirit,’ which currently is running at the artistic institution until July 3—and most audiences would agree with the statement.
The show came from Coward— an English playwright— in 1941, and it showcases the wit and distinct sense of style that he has become known for, all while utilizing modern technology to make the plot a little more visually realistic.
The story opens with Charles Condomine (played by Ian Merrill Peakes), a novelist in search of content for his next book. Along with his second wife Ruth (played by Karen Peakes), the married couple invites an eccentric medium Madame Arcati (Mary Martello) to perform a séance at their home. To Charles’ surprise, the process does in fact churn out a spirit—his first wife, Elvira (Alicia Roper), who had died seven years previously and who he self-reportedly “adored.”
What once was adoration turns to shock, then dismay, when Charles realizes that he is the only one who can see Elvira— and Ruth can’t quite seem to figure out what’s wrong with her husband. Through an awkward and hilarious exchange, the three engage in some conversation, through Ruth sees it as a private conversation between husband and wife, and Elvira sees it as an opportunity to win Charles back. From there, Elvira practically moves in.
The story came to Coward while he was visiting Wales shortly after his office in London had been destroyed in the Second World War, according to a release. On this trip, he developed his idea for a playful comedy about ghosts and timeless romantic relationships. The play premiered in the West End that year, where it was met with critical acclaim for its mixture of farce and dark humor. The Walnut’s production of the show specifically features a talented cast of Philadelphia actors, including a real-life married couple in the roles of Charles and Ruth to play out the riotous love triangle.
Walnut Producing Artistic Director Bernard Havard has brought Coward’s classic to the stage as director, and that direction included the props on set as much as the actors. Within the show, audiences will be able to see the set come alive, specifically through those supernatural moments. With a sharp-witted and quick dialogue, it adds an extra layer of entertainment to the popular story.
Over time in the show, Ruth realizes that her husband actually has been telling the truth, and now she has her current husband’s ex-wife’s ghost wandering around and spending as much time as she can spend with her spouse.
The chemistry between Charles and Ruth, especially when bickering, is undoubtedly supported by their own personal relationship—and it’s timed well and quite fun to watch. Once you add Elvira in to the mix, the squirming of the selfish author between two women who love him drives much of the funnier moments, but some scenes have also been stolen by the Condomine’s maid, Edith (Jill Robinson). And she ends up having a bigger role in grand scheme of things than you would initially expect.
The cast also includes veteran actors Scott Langdon and Susan Riley Stevens, who are returning to the Walnut to play Dr. and Mrs. Bradman. And they don’t take the medium, or the spirit, quite seriously.
To send Elvira back to where she came from (for a variety of reasons—some deadly— that we won’t spoil), Madame Arcati must come back to the Condomine’s house to perform another séance. And as a medium with eccentric needs (most of which involve her diet), it’s a long process before they can figure out just what they need to do to make it happen—and audiences can watch it all unfold first-hand on stage.
The final scene takes the set to a new level, and it also is a grand technical finale to a show that was based on the strength of the characters and their relationships. The combination of humor, timing and setting definitely drive the magic of the Walnut’s latest show, and ‘Blithe Spirit’ cements itself as another fun production to watch at any age.
For more information on The Walnut Street Theater’s production of ‘Blithe Spirit,’ visit walnutstreettheatre.org
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