Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” is no stranger to the local theater scene. It’s likely that if you’ve been watching local theater for any length of time, you’ve come across a production or two (or more) of this show in the past. And for good reason: It’s an enjoyable show, one that allows the audience to sit back, relax and forget their troubles for a few hours.
Schenectady Civic Players’ production of “Blithe Spirit” is an enjoyable night of theater, if not a daring one. It’s a very safe production, without many risks taken; however, it’s a solid production, and well-done.
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 S. Church St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through Oct. 21
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.civicplayers.org
In brief, for those who aren’t aware of the story: Charles Condomine (Robert L. Hegeman), a writer, wants to research the occult for his latest novel. He thinks it will be a hoot to invite over the local medium, Madame Arcati (Melissa Putterman Hoffman) for “research” — and perhaps a healthy dose of scoffing behind her back. At a dinner party with some of his nearest and dearest, including his wife, Ruth (Jean T. Carney), the medium performs a séance, with an unexpected outcome: it actually works. Charles’ ex-wife Elvira (Cristine M. Loffredo), dearly departed for seven years, is now part of the household — much to Ruth’s chagrin.
This performance belongs to two women: Elvira and Madame Arcati. Loffredo’s portrayal of the playful, childish and perhaps a little malevolent ghostly ex-wife was spot-on. She pouted, flirted, and haunted with style; when she was good, she was adorable, and when she was naughty, she was even more so. Hoffman’s Madame Arcati was a sight to behold. Because of an illness, Hoffman had to step into the role a week and a half before opening night. She might have still had a book in her hand, but that didn’t stop her from stealing each and every scene she was involved in. Her facial expressions alone were cause for uproarious laughter from the audience. I can’t even imagine what she’s going to be able to do with the character once she’s got both hands free to use at will.
The rest of the cast did a good job as well: Susan Katz’s fluttering Mrs. Bradman was especially fun to watch, and Hegeman’s Charles, torn between his solid Ruth and his more ethereal Elvira, was a perfect foil for the two women.
Duncan Morrison’s set design is beautiful, truly evoking a British home in the late 1930s (with a few surprises later in the show, thanks to the “spirit world!”). The depth of the set was wonderful to behold, as was the realism. Kudos as well to Joseph Fava and Marcia Thomas’ costume design; the women’s clothing (especially Madame Arcati’s swooping getups) were gorgeous and lush.
Coward’s work doesn’t seem dated, surprisingly, even having been written more than 60 years ago, which is, I’m sure, part of the reason it’s such a perennial favorite with community theaters. It’s a good show to start a season with: safe, fun, and visually pleasing.