by Willard Manus
Noel Coward's 1941 comedy is revived in scintillating fashion at Theatricum Botanicum thanks to Heidi Helen Davis' direction and to the superb cast, led by Abby Craden (Elvira), Mark Bramhall (Charles Condomine), Melora Marshall (his wife Ruth) and Ellen Geer (as the whacky spiritualist, Madame Arcati). The other admirable actors were Tim Halligan (Dr.Bradman), Danielle O'Loughlin (Mrs. Bradman) and Crystal Sershen (as the beleagured maid, Edith).
Coward's glossy, witty style (mixed with moments of satire and slapstick) isn't easy to capture by American actors, but the Theatricum Botanicum crew more than rises to the challenge. British accents are reproduced skilfully and the preposterous parts of the story--people coming back from the dead and wreaking havoc on the living--are handled with aplomb.
The action of the play is triggered when Charles, a writer researching spiritualism, invites Madame Arcati to hold a seance at his house. Big mistake. Madame does her job so well that Charles' late wife, Elvira, returns (in extreme whiteface) to boss him around once again. Madame's well-meaning but nutty psychic meddling--New Agers please note--leads to an even bigger domestic crises when wife #2 dies in a car-crash (rigged by the vengeful Elvira) and also returns from "the other side" to make trouble for the living.
BLITHE SPIRIT could be read as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of marriage and domesticity. Coward mostly pokes fun at his own theme, though, and draws lots of laughs during the course of his 2 1/2 hour play, which Davis and Co. turn into a light-hearted romp.
Through Sept. 29 (in rep with other plays) at Theatricum Botanicum's outdoor ampitheatre, 1419 N. Topanga Blvd., Topanga. Call 310-455-3723 or visit theatricum.com