Arts & Entertainment
A 'Spirited' Comedy Haunts The Snug
By John Quinn
Originally printed 10/17/2013 (Issue 2142 - Between The Lines News)
Although the candy has been on the shelves at Wal-Mart since before Labor Day, we are moving into the season in which "things that go bump in the night" draw laughs rather than shivers. For an ancient festival like Halloween, a touch of the traditional is in order. So Marine City's Snug Theatre treats us to classic comedy with a supernatural twist: Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit."
The stiff upper lip is a legendary element of British character, and "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade" is a fair summary of same. Consider, then, the pluck of mad dog and Englishman Noel Coward. In 1941, after his London office and flat had been flattened by the Luftwaffe, Coward made an orderly retreat to Portmeirion in Wales. Rather than dwell on the horrors of war, he wrote a fizzy drawing room comedy. In his autobiography, Coward said that he wrote "Blithe Spirit" in five days. One wonders, though, whether his inspiration was not the first line of Shelley's poem, "Ode to a Nightingale," "Hail to thee, blithe spirit, bird thou never wert," but rather the last line of Stanza 18, "Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."
Successful novelist Charles Condomine (Aaron Dennis Smith) is seeking color - the "tricks of the trade" - to flesh out the character of a homicidal spiritualist for his new novel, "The Unseen." He and his wife, Ruth (Belinda Hellebuyck), host a dinner party for the local medium, the eccentric Madam Arcati (Susan Craves). To share the fun of the fraud and to bump up the numbers to achieve a proper seance, the skeptical Dr. Bradman (Pat Caporuscio) and his wife (Brittany Everitt Smith) are also in attendance.
The seance doesn't go as Charles had expected. Madam Arcati inadvertently summons the ghost of the first Mrs. Condomine, Elvira (Karen Durak), who, it would appear, was a "free spirit" both in life and the afterlife. Charles is at first taken aback at his status of "astral bigamist," but begins to enjoy it. That provokes the jealousies of both spouses, with dire outcomes. Yet no one suffers by the presence of the paranormal houseguest like the Condomines' dithery, belabored maid, Edith (Mandy Logston).
The comedy in "Blithe Spirit" stems from two sources. First, and most obvious, is the increasingly deep pit Charles digs for himself. In a convention as old as "Hamlet," only he can see and hear Elvira, and his odd behavior and misdirected dialogue leave everyone else with the conclusion that he's off his rocker. Bur no less important is the devilish wit of the playwright, and therein lays a pitfall in producing this play.
Noel Coward, like Oscar Wilde before him, was not above self-indulging in his own cleverness. Regretfully, Wilde was a more thoughtful editor. This is a long play, made to appear longer by the publishers, who have re-edited the original three acts into two. This changes the natural flow of the plot. The rescue, short of slicing dialogue in rehearsal, is going with the conventions of its comedic genre. Dialogue needs to be fired rat-a-tat; line delivery should be over the top. Lastly, the artist needs to portray how situation changes character. That's especially entertaining in a plot where the upper crust eventually crumbles like yesterday's toast.
Granted, facility takes a deep understanding and familiarity with the material. After all, "I remember playing backgammon with a very sweet oriental gentleman ..." isn't funny if it's not followed by its punch line, "I think his name was Genghis Kahn." Director Nancy Arnfield and a dedicated cast serve up Coward's effervescent farce, but the champagne is a little flat. Not that that dampened the enthusiasm of the opening night audience - if not enchanted, they were entertained.
The Snug Theatre, 160 Water Street, Marine City, 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday & 3 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 26. 2 hours, 45 minutes. $20. 810-278-1749 http://thesnugtheatre.com