The Column Online



by Pam Valentine

Rover Dramawerks

Director: Glynda Welch
Stage Manager: Paula Raven
Set Designer: Charles Welch
Costume Designer: Alison Kingwell
Lighting Designer: Catherine M. Luster
Sound Designer: Robbi Holman
Properties Designer: Charles Welch

Jack Cameron: Jeff York
Susie Cameron: Heather York
Mark Webster: Budd Mahan
Simon Willis: Sean M. Lewis
Flic Willis: Heather Roberts
Marcia Bradshaw: Sue Goodner
Guardian Angel: Margaret Young

Reviewed Performance: 3/24/2023

Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Two ghosts inhabit Cobbler’s cottage in upstate New Hampshire. Murder Mystery novelist Jack Cameron and his wife Susie once owned the place. Now they are doomed to haunt it. They prefer to have it to themselves. They pass the time talking about meals they miss eating, and remembering bits of their old life, which holds with several regrets. The Camerons find enjoyment in their banter, and in taunting the real estate man by making things float before his eyes and hiding keys. They’ve successfully chased off several tenants. Then a young couple, aspiring writer Simon and his pregnant wife Flic, catch the ghostly couple’s fancy when they tour the place. They opt to not “spook” them, and the couple rents the cottage for a year.

What follows is a delightful mix of funny comedy and thought-inducing philosophy. Director Glynda Welch handles both aspects of the play adroitly, as well as the acting space itself, an intimate thrust stage. Her smooth blocking allows the living and the dead to interact without touching. She’s done a wonderful job imbuing the discoveries the ghosts make about themselves with humor, honesty, and heart. This director has a lovely vision for this unusual show and has pulled excellent performances from her talented cast.

Welch is aided in bringing her vision to life by the clever production team. Charles Welch has designed a clean, uncluttered set for the show in a neutral palette, which allows the fun costumes designed by Alison Kingwell to pop. Her choices for each of the characters are spot-on and add to the fun. The lighting design by Catherine M. Luster is gorgeous. There are subtle shifts as well as dramatic ones that support the show beautifully. The final lighting moment had our audience sighing with delight. The jazzy sound design by Robbi Holman was also spot on. Stage Manager Paula Raven runs a smooth ship, allowing the audience full enjoyment of this charming play.

Real-life husband and wife Heather and Jeff York play the ghostly couple of Susie and Jack Cameron. Their chemistry is a delight as they banter. Even when they are fussing at each other, you can feel the love between them and the yearning to be able to touch them just one more time. Heather York’s enjoyment of having another woman to bond with is palpable, as is her exasperation in having to be the one who needs to communicate directions to the living. Hers is a balanced, nuanced performance which stays rooted, even as she mischievously makes the living say what she wishes them to say. Jeff York’s portrayal of an often-crotchety writer spans many emotions. He (and by proxy, the audience) has a great time taunting the real estate man, but we also deeply feel his deep need to help the young couple he’s come to love later in the play. He has some dramatic, solitary moments onstage that are touching and beautiful. The pair carries the wide emotional range of this play, and they do it beautifully.

Sean M. Lewis’ Simon must flip between being controlled by a ghost and being himself, as well as being a blocked writer, a loving husband, and a barely tolerated son-in-law. Lewis’ acting ability spans all these seemingly effortlessly. He gives the audience many of the biggest laughs of the evening. His physical comedy is excellent, and he is an absolute delight to watch onstage. Heather Roberts is sympathetic as his spritely wife, who gets progressively more pregnant as the play goes on. Roberts can sense the ghosts around her, and the actress does a good job being the bridge between the living and the dead, as well as trying to manage her persnickety mother.

“Monster-in-law” Sue Goodner adroitly steals the show every time she is onstage as Flic’s wealthy, snooty, condescending mother. Her eye-rolling nastiness gets a wonderful comeuppance later in the play. It’s entertaining to see this actress plunge full-on into a brilliantly staged bit of physical comedy as her hidden passionate nature is revealed by the ghosts.

Budd Mahan’s take on baffled real estate agent Mark Webster is a master class in comedic acting. His ability to show us a man trying very hard to be professional while being beset by floating glassware and Christmas ornaments is a treat. Mahan’s dry delivery of his lines is spot on, pulling applause from the audience several times during the show.

The wacky Guardian Angel played by Margaret Young is another enjoyable performance. Young brings a unique sincerity as she takes phone calls from part of her costume, and when she “tunes in” to see future events. It’s a purposely fun role, and Young has a field day with it.

Rover’s play choices are not your usual fare. Their mission is to bring to life “new and rediscovered theatre off the beaten path.” SPIRIT LEVEL will surprise you in the best possible way, mixing hilarious physical comedy and fast banter with thoughtful philosophy about living your best life while you still walk the earth. This charming show is well worth your time, go see it!

SPIRIT LEVEL runs Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through April 1st.
Performances are at the Cox Playhouse, 1517 H. Street, Plano, TX 75074
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