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Volume 70, Issue 60, Monday, November 15, 2004

Life & Arts

Afterlife lessons learned in 'Spirit'

Strong acting, clever directing drive play about the misfortunes 
of meddling with the dead

By Jennifer Jackson
The Daily Cougar

It's more about this world, less about the other one; more about humor and less about the seriousness of the afterlife; more about plain old human jealousy and less about the "blitheness" of being an immortal spirit.

The play Blithe Spirit, by Noel Coward opened Friday, and is well acted, well directed and witty from beginning to end.


The characters in Blithe Spirit get more than they bargained for when a light-hearted attempt to conjure up a few spirits turns out to be a night of being haunted by the past. The School of Theater opened Blithe Spirit this Friday and will end its run Nov. 21.

Kristen Ortwerth/The Daily Cougar

All action throughout the play occurs in one room, the living room of a British novelist named Charles Condimine, played convincingly by Brandon Hearnsberger, who delivers all his lines with a crisp, snappy, nearly-perfect British accent. The play opens with Condimine and his wife, Ruth (Bree Welch), preparing for an event of some kind, the nature of which is unclear to the audience until the entrance of their guest, Madame Arcati. Easily the most American-sounding member of the cast, Madame Arcati (Carolyn Boone) is the town's eccentric medium, whose hilariously overdone dramatics make up for what she lacks in authenticity, and she quickly steals the show.

Another couple, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Jason Reynolds and Vanessa Proctor), join the Condimine's party in order to witness and enjoy the foolish spectacle that Arcati promises to exhibit. By the end of the night, all present find Arcati just as laughable and ridiculous as they expected, except Mr. Condimine himself, who was the biggest skeptic of all. But Condimine is not as disturbed about discovering his erroneous belief as he is about the very uncomfortable implications, which are suddenly present and inescapable in ways he can only describe as "embarrassing."

From this point on, the play takes off on a wild ride of wit, misadventure and murderous intent, all of which are treated lightly and even irreverently at times. 

Coward seems to be communicating two main ideas to audience members in Blithe. First, the supernatural world is not as mysterious as is thought or as different from the natural world. Jealous wives still exist and can still torment jealous husbands even from the realms of the afterlife.

Coward does not leave room for any heaven or hell in his world; rather, the afterlife is seen as merely a continuation of this life with a few more "conveniences," such as the ability to socialize with other long-dead celebrities and the ability to be invisible to certain people. The spirits are amusing in their humanity, especially in one instance in which a spirit shrinks at the idea of supernatural phenomena, protesting that she will scream if she "sees a ghost."

On the other hand, Coward's characters astutely realize that even this "blithe" picture of the afterlife should not scatter all caution about dealing with the occult. Condimine, his wife and their friends are gathering for a night of entertainment, sly mockery and cheap thrills, but having the spirit of a dead wife living in their house was never part of the bargain.

But all in all, this is not a play about ghouls, ghosts or goblins. If anything, it is intended to naturalize the supernatural and poke gentle fun at mediums and their kind, while giving the audience enough reason to be cautious about dealing with forces beyond its control.

Blithe Spirit

Wortham Theatre

Playing: Through Nov. 21

Verdict: Well directed, well acted and witty from beginning to end.

 Send comments to dcshobiz@mail.uh.edu

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