There is no doubt of the mastery that Noël Coward had of social comedy. Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s (STNJ) latest production, Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” is the embodiment of that mastery, if you’ll pardon the pun. Written in just six days in 1941, when Coward had fled the bombings happening in London, it took people’s minds off one of the darkest parts of World War Two. Today it is often produced and in the hands of experts such as STNJ’s, it is a romp worthy of these equally troubled times.
Victoria Mack, a favorite company member of STNJ, is at the helm of this production, her first as director here, though she’s in her 10th season with the company. She is the mistress of her domain, balancing colleagues with newcomers with aplomb, for this delicious Summer caper.
Ruth Condomine (Kate MacCluggage) is preparing for a small dinner party, instructing her maid Edith (Bethany Kay) on some last minute niceties—like not running clickety-clack from hither to yon. Her husband is the author, Charles Condomine (Brent Harris), who’s gathering information for his next book. This is to be a murder mystery featuring a medium. He’s invited their friends Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Ames Adamson and Monette Magrath) and the local spiritualist, Madame Arcati (Tina Stafford) and the fun begins in earnest when Madame Arcati conjures up none other than the specter of Charles’ first wife, Elvira (Susan Maris)! Truly then, the game is afoot.
We open in the perfect drawing room—thank you Charlie Calvert for sets and Michael Giannitti for lighting. Kari Berntson’s sound design, pre-curtain and during the show, takes us back to the 1940s and Hugh Hanson’s costumes complete the picture. We are awash in the 1940s and far away from the 21st century. It is delightful to walk through a door and back in time, though we know that no matter how rosy the past may seem, the same challenges existed then as now.
A great director chooses excellent actors, and Harris and MacCluggage have the repartee and vague ennui of a married couple, well accustomed to one another’s foibles. Adamson’s Dr. Bradman, with perfectly sculpted British-style whiskers, and Magrath’s Mrs. Bradman, with her frequent effervescent laughter, are spot-on. Kay sets the bar high from the beginning, with her tintinnabulating walk with crystal glassware, and Maris’ Elvira is full of mischievous antic glee–she’s a cross between Peter Pan and a Mean Girl as she plagues Ruth and Charles. And when her plan to have Charles join her goes awry, the haranguing of the past and immediate past wives, fighting with one another then ganging up on Charles, is deliciously frictive. The icing on the cake is Stafford’s Arcati: she is brilliant. There’s nothing “medium” about her. Well done, Medium rare! Her dotty ADHD, alternating with hyper-focus are delicious, the physical comedy is like something from the Marx Brothers, and the meta-awareness that the character has of how her specialty is viewed is displayed with candor. Stafford shines in every moment that she’s on stage, perhaps most when she’s having her very serious discussion with Charles. Every character is well-written and the strength of this cast makes for a memorable experience, indeed.
Get your tickets now–the show runs just through September 2! This show is the perfect way to get in the spirit—see what I did there—for Halloween and the Autumn holidays, so call 973/408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org
for your tickets today!