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Blythe Spirit spoofs the occult and its believers

July 24th, 2008 · No Comments · Vicki's View

blithespirit.jpgBy Vicki Paris Goodman
Arts and Entertainment Editor

The Long Beach Playhouse’s new production of Noel Coward’s comedy Blithe Spirit is a chuckle a minute…at least. A scathing yet good-hearted spoof on the occult, and presumably those who attempt to mess around with it, the play pokes fun at the afterlife and makes no excuses to those who might take offense. Everything from poltergeist to ectoplasm are thrown into the haunting for our ghoulish enjoyment.
When a ditsy yet earnest medium named Madame Arcati is called to the home of Charles and Ruth Condomine to conduct a séance, she has no idea Charles seeks only to expose her as a fraud in order to gain material for his new book. Ruth and the couple’s friends, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, play along for the fun of it. After all, what harm could a little séance do?
Enter Madame Arcati, who travels by bicycle. She is literally and figuratively larger than life as played with enormous panache by the noticeably tall Diane Benedict. Benedict handles her role with a mix of sober conviction and riotous hysterics. Her considerable attention to the cucumber sandwiches, and ability to deliver copious lines of dialogue while scarfing them down, amazed and amused me. Benedict steals the show.
Hardly a fraud, as it turns out, Arcati does her job too well. Charles and Ruth (think Frasier and Lilith, as played by Kevin Deegan and Katherine Prenovost) get the shock of their lives when Arcati manages to conjure up Charles’ deceased wife Elvira.
Stephanie Schulz gives the role of the high-spirited (No pun intended? Well, maybe.) Elvira a pleasing and good-natured spoiled-little-rich-girl mentality. For Elvira, all’s fair in love, and Prenovost’s poor Ruth handles the excessive intrusion into her marriage mostly with equanimity. Put it this way – most women would prove far less patient.
Let’s just say that, in exchange for her noble restraint, Ruth gets little satisfaction. But she does manage to screw up Elvira’s ulterior motive. That’s something, I guess.
Actress Giggi Campbell burns off quite a few calories sprinting from the parlor to the kitchen, and back again, as type-A-to-the-max housekeeper Edith. Dr. and Mrs. Bradman are played with good humor by Rowland Kerr and Elizabeth Wallner.
Yvonne Robertson does a flawless job directing the terrific and mostly amateur cast of this outstanding and very entertaining production. Greg Fritsche’s set is just beautiful. Donna Fritsche’s costumes perfectly fit the bill. And whoever it was who did Schulz’ fabulous ghostly make-up is a genius.
Blithe Spirit continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre through August 23. “Summer Sizzle” special: General admission tickets are reduced to $18, $15 for seniors. Student tickets are $10 with valid student ID and are available for Friday and Saturday performances.
Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees on July 27, August 3 and 17 at 2 p.m.
Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at www.lbph.com.

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