On a stage in the homey log cabin they call The Hut, Neuse Little Theatre actors Michael Parker and Leanne Bernard rehearse a quarrel in their make-believe marriage.
Their pretend British accents echo throughout the small venue, and a wry line draws a smile from Sam Smith, another actor standing next to a fireplace.
The seven-member cast of the NLT’s production of Noel Coward’s “improbable farce” hopes to bring more smiles and chuckles from audience members when the show begins a five-day run on Friday.
“Blithe Spirit” continues the NLT’s 41st season. The Hut is the troupe’s longtime headquarters at the corner of Front and Market in downtown Smithfield.
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The play revolves around Charles Condomine, a successful and cantankerous novelist who wishes to learn about the occult for a novel he is writing. He arranges for an eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, to hold a séance at his house.
At the séance, she inadvertently summons Charles’ first wife, Elvira, who has been dead for seven years. Only Charles can see or hear Elvira, and his second wife, Ruth, does not believe that Elvira exists. The ghostly Elvira makes continued and increasingly desperate efforts to disrupt Charles's current marriage, and as the personalities clash, Charles has to figure out how to make Elvira’s spirit pass on.
Parker, who plays Charles Condomine, is in his first play with the Neuse Little Theatre. A Raleigh resident, he said his wife told him about the auditions, where he won the leading role.
Parker said when he moved to North Carolina from California about 11 years ago, he was in the midst of a brief departure from acting. He started auditioning again in 2013 and has since acted in a handful of shows throughout the Triangle. Most recently, he played Fred in a production of “Miracle on 34th Street” at the Stars Theater and Arts Center in Fuquay-Varina.
“I love doing comedies,” Parker said of his role in “Blithe Spirit,” adding that he favors the genre.
So does one of his cast mates, Laurie Cherry, a Smithfield resident who plays Elvira. “There is serious content, but at the same time, nothing seems to go right, and it’s funny,” she said.
Cherry, who grew up in Kenly, said she first auditioned a few years ago and is now doing her sixth show with the NLT. “Not many people know about this, but when they come, they are blown away,” she said of the NLT.
The play opens at 8 p.m. Friday. Other shows are at 6 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Feb. 27-28. Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 at the door. To reserve a seat, call 919-934-1873.
Smith, who plays Dr. George Bradman, has been doing NLT shows since 1997. He said nothing else in town compares to the experience of seeing a show at The Hut, which is maintained by volunteers.
“If someone doesn’t get cast, they are always helping at the box office or at the door,” Smith said. “Everybody pitches in.”