Brad Lambert, Amanda Alexander, & Christine Schotter. Photo: Katie Maras Haulter
By Noel Coward
Directed by Katie Maras Haulter
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Noel Coward comedies are typically acutely observed satires of society, and Blithe Spirit qualifies on that count, but at the time of its first production, it was seen as a strange hybrid of drawing room comedy and ghost story. Looking back, it was a play ahead of its time, a forerunner of the taste for genre cross-breeding that would become commonplace in the years to come.
Charlie Condomine (Brad Lambert) has called upon Madame Arcati (Christine Schotter) to conduct a séance attended by his second wife, Ruth (Kat Ireland), and guests Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Alan Weller & Emily Miller). All of the group are skeptics, yet the evening results in the manifestation of Charlie’s deceased first wife, Elvira (Amanda Alexander), but only Charlie can see and hear her.
Coward is having fun with the supernatural and the connotation of madness as a comedic device, but his target, as in much of his other work, is social convention and in particular, marriage. His sharp exchanges of dialogue demand a deft delivery to realize the full potential of the material. The words are the ingredients in a soufflé and are accordingly defeated when overworked.
Amanda Alexander comes the closest to that ideal, gliding around the stage with a languid, moving-from-the-hips insouciance and letting the language fall from her lips with a nearly effortless aplomb. If only the rest of this production was swept up in that same understanding of style. The gleam of mischief in her eye shows she gets it.
I think the problem lies in approaching Coward as if he was just any other playwright, with an earnest, workmanlike reading of the plot without the factiousness and barbed tone. The English class system is also a crucial aspect in his writing, and this version, despite a range of attempts at British accents, feels distinctly American middle-class.
The early scenes played as flat and listless, with enough dropped cues to drag the pacing. There was no snap, no energy. Then Christine Schotter brings Madame Arcati on with so much scenery chewing force as if she aims to kick-start the action and wake everyone up. It’s a valiant effort, but it’s not enough to lift the production to where it needs to be. I know Brad Lambert to be an actor of skill and even daring, and he manages well enough, even if this is not necessarily his best work.
Even if this Blithe Spirit doesn’t soar, it is a welcome glimpse at the work of one of the great early 20th century playwrights.
November 9, 10, 11, 16, 17 at 8:00 PM
November 18 at 2:00 PM
For tickets, please call the box office at 812.283.6522
Clarksville Little Theatre
301 E. Montgomery Avenue
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.