Good theater happens when all the elements come together in harmony and Raleigh Little Theatres Blithe Spirit is a fine example. Noël Cowards wit and sophistication come shining though in this beautifully wrought production.
Cowards play has been a staple since its 1941 premiere. The story of a novelist gathering material at a seance and being confronted by his dead first wifes spirit has great comic potential. The ramifications of his being the only one able to see her and her antics in annoying his current wife make for some hilarious punch lines and funny visual effects.
But too often productions go for exaggeration and miss out on the flair needed for this lighter-than-air farce. Here, director Tony Lea understands the requirements, molding his cast into a purring engine of fleetingly paced dialogue and action. Even with some judicious cutting, the production runs more than 2 1/2 hours, but Lea keeps the energy bubbling along, creating a delightfully atmospheric period piece.
John Allores Charles is increasingly funny as he juggles his rekindled feelings towards first wife, Elvira, and his frustration that no one believes shes there, his body language especially effective. Anne-Caitlin Donohues Elvira floats mischievously about, pouting, posing and teasing with admirable timing and expression. Donohue and Allores scenes together are highlights.
Page Purgar makes Ruth, Charles society-conscious wife, a formidable foil for husband and ghostly rival without ever losing the audiences sympathy, while Izzy Burger gives the clumsy maid, Edith, laughter-inducing spaciness. John Paul Middlesworths genial Dr. Bradman and Kelly McConkeys ditzy Mrs. Bradman add to the fun.
The role of Madame Arcati, the séances medium, is often the most memorable because actresses are encouraged to go overboard with the characters eccentricities. Marilyn Gormans take is more matter-of-fact and in control while still indicating Arcatis inflated view of her abilities.
Thomas Mauneys lovely English sitting room, with fireplace, bar and French windows, is subtly lighted by Elizabeth Grimes-Droessler, especially during the shadowy seance sequences, and is enhanced with Vicki Olsons period costuming.
Some extremely rapid-fire dialogue needs clearer enunciation and some awkward staging forces actors to face the wings or upstage for important lines. But these small blemishes cant tarnish the gleam of this most charming and mirthful production.