Vista, CA---This is probably as good a time as any to mount a Noël Coward Play. With so much animosity and nastiness in the media these days that we can’t seem to escape, Coward’s classic “Blithe Spirit”, now being presented on the Avo Stage in Vista through March 9 th, might bring some levity on to the scene if only for the two or so hours director Eric Bishop is able to hold our interest. It’s classic Coward, but pretty much a one trick pony.
Coward’s 1941 farce “Blithe Spirit”, while then the object of some pushback because of the war, managed to win enough audience approval that it went on to set British box office records of 1,997 consecutive performances for a non musical play in the West End.
We don’t see enough Noël Coward these days for various reasons and the big one is that some of his plays seem dated. It is upper crust at its best and if you can’t get enough of how ‘the other half lives’ entertainment, this just might be your cup of (high) tea. You be the judge.
Charles Condomine (Paul Morgavo) and his second wife Ruth (Stacy Huntington) are awaiting the arrival of their friends Dr. George and Violet Bradman, (Taylor Bassett and Sherri Allen) for an evening of séance at their home. In the mean time they are trying to rein in their maid, Edith, (Li-Anne Rowswell) from running a marathon every time she enters the room. Slow and easy as she goes is their advice.
Local (eccentric) medium Madame Arcati (Dagmar Krause Fields) is asked to lead the séance and she is, as we will later learn, surprised by her own powers. She arrives on bicycle all agog. Charles is collecting information about a new thriller he is writing and wants to learn more about the world beyond and the occult but the medium is not aware of this.
After dinner and before they get started, Madame Arcati fires up the gramophone and begins to play her favorite song “Always” since she uses it as her spiritual guide. With a slow startup and some table rattling, Madame Arcati inadvertently summons Charles’ late first wife Elvira (Jacque Wilke). Elvira has been dead for seven years (“she must have been on a waiting list”) and is itching to come back and haunt Charles and his now wife Ruth. At first, Charles is not at all amused.
Much to Ruth’s chagrin, when Elvira does appear on the scene and she is only visible to her husband Charles, she becomes unglued. The havoc begins when Elvira and Charles converse but this doesn’t happen until Madame Arcati recovers from a fainting spell. She flees the house in a tumultuous tide of confusion.
Elvira begins playing with Charles and while the two seem to be having lots of fun at Ruth’s expense, Ruth wants Elvira gone. To the contrary, Elvira wants Charles dead so she and he can be together again.
I couldn’t think of a better-suited Elvira than Wilke. Dressed in Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd’s (costume design) white flowing gown and looking OH, so very lovely and very charming and very pleased with herself as the ghostly wife who still knows how to push his buttons, she criticizes his wife’s taste in their house furnishings and upsets the calm balance that seems to exist between the two.
She is also especially aware of the fact that her ex husband is still attracted to her, or so it seems, as she gives a wonderful and ghostly performance, showing up here, disappearing there, teasing and egging him on but never disappointing.
Morgavo is perfect as the suave, easy as he goes egotistical, self assured husband who seems to love the idea that his two loves (not including the ones he took while married to both women) are fighting over him. Both on opposite ends of the spectrum, Ruth is domineering and shrill while Wilke is soft, teasing and inviting, yet still pushy from the grave.
Stacey Huntington’s Ruth, while trying her best to be the perfect society wife, seems always to be the also ran. One might feel a twinge of sympathy for her if she weren’t so shrill, stoic and overbearing.
Dagmar Krause-Fields is wonderfully eccentric as Madame Arcati, the oft times bewildered medium. She is a fine choice as one who bewitches and bothers. Her outlandish costumes are a feast for the eyes. Li-Anne Rowswell works the role of Edith, the ‘doesn’t have a clue’ maid, who has a secret even she doesn’t know about. Both Sherri Allen and Taylor Bassett are well suited as a nice balance for the Condomine’s. Unfortunately Ms. Allen and Huntington are too high-pitched and loud for comfort sake. More nuances and less noise might be in order.
Saving the best for last, N. Dixon Fish designed a standout looking set that serves as the Condomine home. Furnished with art deco pieces, beautifully designed and colorful sliding doors that close off the living room from the hallway, another set of French doors that lead to an outside patio (?), a spacious living room framed in heavy dark wooden planks, an unusual looking hanging lamp, and sitting room with a handsome modern picture hanging over the fireplace. It is a knockout.
Ashley Jenks lighting design does the set justice. Jim Zadai sound design, table rattling and with the old favorite “Always” playing on the gramophone that seemed to be just the prompt needed to summon Elvira, Bishop's production while it felt long and dragged out, will no doubt pick up speed as the players (and stage crew) fall into the Coward groove.
For the look, appeal and a taste of classic Coward, give this one a try.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 9th
Organization: Moonlight Stage Productions
Production Type: Comedy
Where: 303 Main Street, Vista
Ticket Prices: $22.00-$30.00
Venue: Avo Playhouse