REVIEW: Mirth, Mischief, and Marriage Cast a Spell in ‘Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit’ at Meadow Brook Theatre

Later this year, Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit will once again occupy space in London’s West End. But the good news is you don’t have book a flight to see this comedic masterpiece. Just head over to Meadow Brook Theatre (MBT) on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester where it is playing through February 2, 2020.

Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit begins on what seems to be a typical English evening. Unfortunately for dandy Charles Condomine (Timothy C. Goodwin), this is the night when his life will become completely upended. Charles is a novelist in search of material for his next book on the occult. So, he invites Mrs. Violet (Stephanie Nichols) and Dr. George Bradman (Phil Powers) to join him and his second wife Ruth (Dani Cochrane) for a séance with the eccentric medium Madame Aracti (Lynnae Lehfeldt). Also joining this merry band of misguided souls is the Condomine’s servant Edith (Katie Akers). I’d keep an eye on Edith if I were you. At first, it seems she’s around for purely comedic effect, but as the play unfolds, the audience learns she has a far more significant role.

Guests gather ’round for a haunting good time.
L-R: Timothy C. Goodwin as Charles Condomine, Lynnae Lehfeldt as Madame Aracti, Dani Cochrane as Ruth Condomine, Katie Akers as Edith, Phil Powers as Dr. George Bradman, and Stephanie Nichols as Mrs. Violet Bradman in Meadow Brook Theatre’s production of ‘Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit.’

Photo courtesy of Meadow Brook Theatre’s Facebook page

All seems to be going well as the group sits down with Madame Aracti after dinner for the séance. She attempts to contact the other side but ultimately isn’t able to reach anyone from the great beyond, and they all have a good laugh at her expense after she’s left. After all, such things are just nonsense. Or are they? It turns out Madame Aracti was successful in summoning Charles’ first wife Elvira (Leslie Ann Handelman) and she’s got a few things to get off her chest.

Of course, Charles is initially the only person who can see her, and Ruth thinks he’s gone stark-raving mad until Elvira proves she’s really hanging around. These two women couldn’t be more different. Elvira bores easily, is moody, and always wants to go out and have a bit of fun. She also seems to enjoy teasing Charles about their marriage. Whereas Ruth is prim and proper; far more concerned with appearances and social standing, which is why Charles’ new behavior is so appalling to her.

Ruth: Now look here, Charles – in your younger days this display of roguish flippancy might have been alluring – in a middle-aged novelist it’s nauseating.
Charles: I don’t see what I’ve done that’s so awful?
Ruth: You behaved abominably last night. You wounded me and insulted me.
Charles: I was a victim of an aberration.
Ruth: Nonsense. You were drunk.

And thus begins Charles descent into madness as he tries to keep a dead wife and a living one happy at the same time. Goodwin is wonderful as a man honestly caught between two worlds and damned in both of them. His mannerisms are frantic and his exasperation believable. Cochrane and Handelman are to be applauded for being such enchanting torturers. And it was great to see Lehfeldt (Murder on the Orient Express) really possess the role of Madame Aracti. She is absurd and charming at the same time. In fact, the entire cast falls into those categories in varying degrees. A well-deserved shout out goes to Terry W. Carpenter (stage manager), Kristen Gribbin (scenic design), Corey Collins (costume design), Phillip Hall (lighting design), and Mike Duncan (sound design). All their hard work and attention to detail really marries everything together in a seamless way that is very pleasing to the eyes and ears.

Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit is not a fast-paced comedy like Arsenic and Old Lace where the actors are constantly entering and exiting, but rather a sophisticated slow burn filled with witty quips, tantrums, and exaggerated facial expressions. As Director, Travis W. Walter points out in his notes, Noël Coward is well-known for his comedies of manners, which are rich in satire and pretentiousness. The preview performance I attended had a few bobbles here and there, but no major catastrophes. And I am confident as the run continues and each actor settles into his or her character, every performance will only get better. So, if you’re looking to shake off the winter blues, Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit will not only lift yours, but it will leave you feeling downright jolly by the last scene. And if that doesn’t work, the rousing curtain call will.

This performance runs approximately two and a half hours. Because this play has three acts, there will be two, 10-minute intermissions.

Get into the ‘spirit’ now through February 2 at Meadow Brook Theatre on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester. Tickets range from $36 to $46 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or going online at www.Ticketmaster.com. Student discounts are available at the box office. Groups of eight or more should call 248-370-3316 for group pricing.

Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit is made possible through the generous support of The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Kresge Foundation, The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, and the Meadow Brook Theatre Guild.

About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at [email protected].

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