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Theater Review: "Blithe Spirit" At Everyman Theatre

This week, theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck reviews "Blithe Spirit." A comedic gem, this play takes a hilarious look at a ghostly love triangle after a quirky medium's seance goes amiss. The play runs through June 28 at the Everyman Theatre.

J. Wynn Rousuck's review:

It’s partly the filmy, flowing costume and partly the pallor of the makeup. But mostly, it’s the way actress Beth Hylton floats – and occasionally skips -- across Everyman Theatre’s stage, not to mention the way she emits bursts of tiny, naughty giggles, or the way she pouts when she doesn’t get her way. All of these things make Hylton’s portrayal of the late Elvira Condomine a delightfully incorrigible ghost.

That’s exactly what’s called for in Noel Coward’s 1941 comedy, “Blithe Spirit.” Elvira is the deceased first wife of a writer named Charles Condomine, played here by a rather high-strung Bruce Randolph Nelson. As research for a novel about a medium, Charles invites his neighbor, Madame Arcati, to conduct a séance at his home. What he gets is far more than research.

Elvira herself materializes – but she can be seen only by Charles, definitely not by his second wife, Ruth, played by Megan Anderson as increasingly exasperated.

Even when one of his wives is a ghost, Charles finds himself in the middle of a maelstrom of jealousy. This is all the funnier because the two wives couldn’t be more different. Those differences are well delineated by actresses Anderson and Hylton, under Vincent M. Lancisi’s direction.

Anderson’s Ruth is sensible, even staid. Hylton’s Elvira is wild and fun-loving. Their timing, when they’re both with Charles, is comic precision. When Charles insults Elvira, Ruth invariably thinks his barbs are aimed at her.

None of this would work, however, without a Madame Arcati who is deadly – pardon the pun -- serious about her profession. Yes, she’s got to be a bit of a kook, but it is essential that she believe in her work – a sense of conviction that actress Nancy Robinette pulls off with aplomb.

Robinette also brings a wonderful spark of joy to her portrayal of Madame Arcati. She’s a medium who takes immense pleasure in her work.

Designer Daniel Ettinger has created an elegant drawing room set – with some amusing special effects by Lewis Shaw. And David Burdick’s costumes, which for some reason have a 1920s flair, are debonair and chic.

Noel Coward wrote “Blithe Spirit” in the midst of World War II, when he and the British people not only welcomed comic relief, but also the notion that the dead are in some way always with us. Everyman’s production comes at a welcome time in Baltimore, too.

John Lahr writes, in his biography, “Coward the Playwright”: “A writer’s work is his ghost; and Coward took solace in the belief that his spirit would haunt the world long after his body had departed it.” I am a diehard Noel Coward fan; I’ve been to his home and his grave in Jamaica. You can certainly feel his spirit there, and though Everyman Theatre’s production is at times a little overwrought, it’s happily haunted by the spirit of Noel Coward.

Editor's note: the audio posted above has been slightly modified to correct an error in the audio editing of the review.

J. Wynn Rousuck has been reviewing theater for WYPR's Midday (and previously, Maryland Morning) since 2007. Prior to that, she was the theater critic of The Baltimore Sun, where she reviewed more than 3,000 plays over the course of 23 years.