ALBANY- Blithe Spirit is one of Noel Coward’s most durable comedies. Since it was first produced in 1941, it has been performed constantly. Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany is keeping the torch alive with a pleasing production that continues through May 6.
The plot, about a wife returning from the dead to steal back her husband from his second wife, was in 1941, startlingly original. Now it’s a familiar conceit seen in countless plays, television shows and films.
Thanks to an excellent cast the Capital Rep production rarely seems dated or overexposed. The plight of a rather rigid wife competing with her husband’s flamboyant and beautiful former wife is charming and amusing.
However, the approach that makes a flimsy premise acceptable is also a drawback. Because the cast seems dedicated to making the characters nice, the production loses a lot of its bite. And that bite is what usually makes a production of “Blithe Spirit” comic. Under the staid direction of Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill this production falls into the category of humorous, rather than funny.
However, there is a certain charm about a Noel Coward play being filled with civil individuals. The choice to fill the stage with nice people avoids a problem found within many productions of Coward’s plays. Often the characters are so arrogant and superior that they become dislikable.
There is nothing to dislike about this production.
Though the tone is humorous rather than comical, there are still many laugh-out- loud moments. When the living wife Ruth finally loses her cool at the top of the second act Brenny Rabine owns the stage and shakes the cobwebs from a long first act.
But even in that first segment there is a funny séance scene in which Eileen Schuyler masterfully finds the oddity of the medium Madam Arcati and makes her a delightful eccentric. And too, it is impossible not to laugh, or at least giggle, when Kelsey Torstvett makes many frantic entrances as the nervous maid, Edith.
The character most limited by the respectful approach is Elvira, the wife who returns from the dead to reclaim her husband and taunt Ruth. Normally Elvira is played with a bit of a cruel streak. Here Yvonne Perry is merely mischievous. Perry does however, get her laughs by expertly showing her glee at the frustration Ruth suffers. She also displays a sharp command of Coward’s witty language.
Though the English accents sounded muddled, the cast relishes the witty language in the play. One of the best is Gary Lindemann, who plays the husband Charles, a man who finds out happiness is NOT having two women who will go to any lengths to have him.
In minor roles, John Romeo and Elisabeth Henry lift the thankless roles of neighboring couple by signaling their own frustrations within their long-term marriage.
Though the entire cast is without blemish, the stars of the show are Capital Rep’s tech crew. Brian Prather’s set is ideal as he created an attractive and functional drawing room. Howard Kaplan’s costumes are splendid, and Travis McHale’s lighting makes mysterious moments work. Their work jells with Rider Q Stanton’s sound design to make the special effects at play’s end very special.
This version of “Blithe Spirit” is well-acted, perfectly designed and offers a fresh concept to a very familiar play It’s a likeable production.
Blithe Spirit continues at Capital Rep in Albany through May 6.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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