BLITHE SPIRITby Noel Coward
Allen Community Theatre
Directed by – Nicole Holbert
Set Design – LaMar Graham
Costume Design – Kasey Bush
Lighting Design – Lisa Miller and Alex Ammons
Sound Design – Richard Stephens, Jr.
Props Design – Lindy Brown and Cassandra Montgomery
Stage Manager – Stephanie Diamond
Alison Baron – Edith
Kathleen Vaught – Ruth
Brett Femrite – Charles
Ted Strahan – Dr. Bradman
Maxine Frauenheim – Mrs. Bradman
Gena Graham – Madame Arcati
Penny Chinn – Elvira
Reviewed Performance: 4/29/2016
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Allen’s Community Theatre presents the self-described “improbable farce” as the third show in their new space, which is around the corner from their former space, where they had been for two years. Having been to the other space, I must praise them for the upgrade, as this location has a nice lobby and much better sound isolation. It’s still a small house, seating fewer than 100, which is makes for some nice, intimate productions, and the seats are relatively comfortable. Well done. It’s especially nice to see a small theatre grow from their first show in a church’s activity room (which I also saw) to where there are now in just five years.
Blithe Spirit takes place in a 1940s living room in Kent. LaMar Graham’s deceptively simple set is perfect for the show, complete with some older antique furniture and sliding doors into the room. Likewise, Kasey Bush’s period costumes are quite good. Her various day dresses for Ruth were exceptionally well done. Everyone’s hair and wigs were also beautifully styled, with the exception of Madame Arcati’s. I don’t know that magenta hair was quite period in the 1940s. The musical choices by Richard Stephens Jr. were excellent. The lighting by Lisa Miller and Alex Ammons was good overall, but when the actors got into the corners, I noticed they weren’t as well-lit as they could be.
The plot of Blithe Spirit involves a novelist who is trying to get information, i.e. “tricks of the trade” for a new book he’s writing about a homicidal medium, so he and his wife invite over a local eccentric who is said to have such powers to do a séance, along with another couple. In doing so, they manage to conjure up his dead wife, with hilarious consequences.
Brett Femrite plays Charles with a laid back charm. While he was occasionally hard to hear because he spoke so softly at times, he had excellent facial expressions and body language. I only wish his vocals had matched them. My hope is that as he becomes more comfortable with the role during the run that this will improve.
Kathleen Vaught is perfect as Ruth, the living wife. She reminded me somewhat of the great Ann Miller, both in her look and facial expressions, and she beautifully portrays the devoted wife with just the right amount of natural jealousy. As the, uh, situation develops, she grows more and more exasperated, and her deliberately controlled progression is fun to watch.
Penny Chinn is sweetly, yet mischievously, ethereal as the ghost wife Elvira. I question the blonde wig on her since they made a point to bring out pictures of her while she was living that showed her as a brunette, and it was rather jarring. As she was dressed and made up in grays (to indicate her ghostliness), perhaps white or light gray would have been a better choice. Her performance, however, was energetic and charming.
Dr. and Mrs. Bradman are played by Ted Strahan and Maxine Frauenheim, and they bring a comfortable husband/wife feel to the roles, with just the right amount of minor bickering. They add to the séance quite nicely. Maxine also has fun with her unintended blunders when she refers to everything remotely uncomfortable as being “funny.”
Madame Arcati is hilariously portrayed by Gena Graham, who reminded me of a hyper Willie Wonka at times. She brought a bohemian silliness to the role and was 100% into it all the time. And I loved her hats.
Stealing almost every scene she’s in is Alison Baron as Edith. This is one of those small parts that is often overlooked, especially in the early scenes, but it’s absolutely crucial to the plot. Alison takes the role and runs with it (pardon the pun), and is just a delight to watch.
Director Nicole Holbert has done a lovely job with a classic play. I thought her “twist” at the very end was interesting, although I’m not sure that’s quite what the playwright intended. I did like the tableaus during the long night of final séances, although based on audience reaction; many of them thought the play was over at that point.
With a run time of over three hours on opening night, the show’s pacing was often rather slow. This should improve as the run continues. It IS a three act play with two intermissions, so do be warned. If you’ve never seen a production of Blithe Spirit, this would be a nice one to catch.
Allen’s Community Theatre, 1210 E. Main St. #300, Allen, TX 75002
Runs through May 15
Actual days (Thursday–Saturday at 8:00pm and Sunday at 3:00pm). Tickets are $ 16-21 For info and to purchase tickets, go to www.allenscommunitytheatre.net or call the box office at 1-844-822-8849.