Open wide and séance
by Michael Dresdner
|All photos by Dennis K Photograpy|
After opening the season with a silly farce, Tacoma Little Theatre has moved on to a more elegant, cerebral, and very British comedy, Noel Coward’s classic play Blithe Spirit. Directed by the theatre’s artistic director Chris Serface and played out on an absolutely gorgeous set designed by Judy Cullen, it’s the perfect fare for the Halloween season; a period piece set in 1940 dense with witty dialog, interesting characters, and the requisite mix of mediums, séances, and spirits, both liquid and ethereal.
|Jed Slaughter as Charles Condomine|
Witty, urbane author Charles Condomine (Jed Slaughter), a widower, and his equally sharp second wife Ruth (Deya Ozburn) are a happy, loving couple, busily trying to get Edith (SarahLynn Mangan), the new maid, to slow down and add some stately decorum to her manner, and in turn to their manor. Strictly for the purpose of research for a book, the completely skeptical couple invites a bicycle-riding local medium, the flamboyant, quirky Madame Arcati (Dana Galagan) to conduct a séance with them and their friends Dr. Bradman (John Saunders) and his wife Violet (Darla Smedley.) Hey, what could possibly go wrong?
|Deya Ozburn as Ruth Condomine|
Amid the requisite banging, wobbling, and table tipping, they accidentally bring the spirit of Charles’ first wife, Elvira (Brittany D. Henderson) back from the dead and into the house. Of course, only Charles can see and hear her, making for some interesting confusion and contention with Ruth, who not only doesn’t believe him, but thinks his annoyed comments to Elvira are directed at her. Despite entreaties and more séances, Arcati is powerless to send her back to the nether world.
|Dana Galagan as Madame Arcati|
Flirtatious and coquettish, Elivra still adores Charles, and soon plots to get him to join her on “the other side.” Instead, she accidently kills Ruth, who soon shows up as ghost number two, and along with Elvira, makes Charles’ life anything but serene.
|L to R: Brittany D. Henderson as Elvira, Jed Slaughter as Condomine.|
The leads in this cast were all excellent. Slaughter played Charles with his usual measured reserve, perfectly fitting for the English gent he is. Ozburn gave us a convincingly crafted Ruth, ranging from confidently haughty to beset and fractured as her normal world crumbles around her. Galagan’s Arcati steered just the right course; strange enough to be viewed as decidedly odd by the local gentry, but who clearly is serious about her craft. But for my money, Henderson’s sexy, relentless, ghostly first wife managed to eke by them all with the best portrayal of Elvira I’ve ever seen.
|L to R: John Saunders as Dr. Bradman, Darla Smedley as Violet Bradman|
Costuming by Michele Graves was excellent and true to both the characters and the period. Hair and makeup, along with the many props, both breakable and not, were, as usual, in the capable hands of Jeffery Weaver. The sound (Dylan Twiner) had some quirks opening night, as did the lighting (Niclas Olson), but that’s to be expected, especially with such a technically complex piece.
The final scene, in which the two spirits wreck the house in a frenzy of frustration, makes this one of the toughest plays to call, so stage manager Nena Curley and her minions deserve a call out for service above and beyond.
If you like your spirits funny and quirky rather than gross and scary, I can’t think of a better piece of Halloween fun than this delightful, well-paced, and superbly acted comedy. Definitely, put it on your “go see it” list.
Oct. 20 to Nov 5, 2017
Tacoma Little Theatre