Who doesn’t like a good ghost story? And who doesn’t love British humor and wit, Noel Coward style?
When you combine the two, you have the classic comedy “Blithe Spirit,” now playing at Waukesha Civic Theatre.
Under the expert direction of Carol Dolphin, this show sings with all the delightful dialogue and quirky characters audiences have enjoyed for decades.
The stellar cast handles every clever and challenging bit thrown at it in this thoroughly entertaining show. This is the fourth time I’ve seen “Blithe Spirit,” but none – including one professional performance – have I enjoyed more than this one.
This ensemble cast is utterly comfortable with their Britishness and in their well-to-do surroundings. That’s why the chaos created when a ghost joins the Condomine household is even more hilarious.
When the lights fell on the WCT stage, the scene was well set for the hijinks to follow. The set has vibrancy and life with an art deco vibe provided by the bright, sky blue walls, red accent boards and black and white wall art. It is a handsome, spacious set, with a raised bar area, that gives the characters plenty of space to romp. Jeff Smerz is the show’s master carpenter, while Scott Prox is the scenic designer.
The show features Charles Condomine (Mark Neufang), a writer, and his wife, Ruth (Alyssa Falvey). Charles and Ruth decide to throw a little dinner party to which he invites the local psychic, Madame Arcati (Rebecca Richards), to get material for his new book. He also invites his doctor, Dr. Bradman (Jim Baker), and Bradman’s wife (Mary Rynders) to take part in the evening’s activities.
None of them believe in Arcati, who claims she can conjure up the dead, but all agree it will be fun and exciting to take part in a séance. “I think it’s interesting how easily some people allow themselves to be deceived,” Ruth says.
No one counts on Arcati’s being successful. Yet, she is able to bring back Charles’ first wife, Elvira (Jenny Kosek), who "passed over” seven years earlier. The unexpected development plays havoc with Charles and his current wife. Only Charles can see Elvira, so it appears to others that he is going mad.
Coward creates his comedy about death and dying by not investing too much in the characters and by not allowing too much of an emotional attachment to them. And it works so brilliantly.
Plus, Coward’s language is so rich. Words like “beastly” and “supercilious” drip so deliciously from the tongues of the actors in this show, who have mastered British accents, allowing audiences to enjoy Coward’s cleverness and artful language to the fullest.
The foundation for the play are the performances of Neufang and Falvey, both in very demanding roles, both handled beautifully.
Falvey’s Ruth has to run a gamut of emotions, all while maintaining a proper British attitude. I love how she and Rynders’ Mrs. Bradman exchange excited, girlish glances as the séance is beginning, and giggle nervously at the strange occurrences. She is properly English throughout, even during her fits of rage.
Neufang’s Charles is an exhausting role and so much fun to watch when it’s done well, as it is here. Neufang is like a pinball, bouncing between Charles’ difficult conversations with his deceased wife and his very-much-alive wife, reaching fever pitches of exasperation, irritation and consternation.
“Surely even an ectoplasmic manifestation has a right to expect a little of the milk of human kindness,” he moans.
As a couple, Neufang and Falvey couldn’t be better. They look great together, move about their swank abode with certainty, and carry on marvelous repartee.
While Charles and Ruth are the canvas, it is Richards’ psychic that brings the splashes of color to the play. Her Arcati is most confident in her abilities, revels in her successes and is quite serious about the psychic world. Richards really engages the audience, often facing them for mood-inducing dances that really draw them in to her character. She has great comic timing and, in her colorful, flowing togs, glides like a sailboat across the stage. You can feel her excitement when she learns she has been successful in bringing back a ghost. “A triumph,” she cries. “A genuine materialization.”
Kosek’s Elvira is also a treat to watch. Elvira floats among the living in her ethereal gray gown, draping herself over furniture and casting out caustic one-liners like darts.
Colleen Glatzel as the maid Edith gets a lot of comic mileage out of the small role. Glatzel is delightful as the nervous, overly conscientious servant. The scene in which she is hypnotized by Arcati is hilarious with Glatzel’s wide-eyed wonder and Cockney accent.
Director Dolphin has elicited consistent characters who handle the British accents and mannerisms to the level of professional quality throughout the cast. Also appreciated were the absence of announcements before the show, the apt choice of scene change music and efficient set changes.
If you go
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
What: “Blithe Spirit”
When: Through Feb. 19
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Tickets/Info: 262-547-0708, waukeshacivictheatre.org