ALBANY — Three stage directions from the opening pages of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit”: the maid, Edith (Kelsy Torstveit) enters; Charles (Gary Lindemann) mixes a dry martini; and Madame Arcati (Eileen Schuyler) drinks her martini.
Coward’s script is but a blueprint for how to build what he called “an improbable farce in three acts,” and no doubt he would be charmed by what visionary director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill has brought to these and nearly every other moment in Cap Rep’s fast-paced and funny production.
Though Coward himself sometimes falls short in the “witty-pronouncement-about-human-nature” department, he has provided enough bons mots to carry the following amusing conceit:
Thanks to the séance efforts of one Madame Arcati, Charles’ dead first wife, Elvira (Yvonne Perry), returns to haunt him and his second wife, Ruth (Brenny Rabine).
Charles is the only one who can see Elvira, however, a fact that intrigues him and confounds Ruth, who doesn’t believe in ghosts until Charles convinces her.
As Charles warms up to the idea of having the two women he loves available all the time (men!), Ruth becomes skeptical, jealous, and furious. Her devil-may-care existence slowly turns into a hell on earth.
Coward cranks up the wheels of merriment as the play progresses, with one plot twist after another leading to a whimsical conclusion.
The technical artistry of this production is superb. Noises (Rider Q. Stanton) and ghostly lighting effects (Travis McHale)? Check. A handsome, well-appointed set (Brian Prather)? Check. Period wigs and costumes? (Michael Dunn and Howard Tvsi Kaplan, respectively.) Check. The cast looks fabulous in that 1940s sort of way. And the whole she-bang is stage-managed by Melissa Richter.
At the séance are Dr. Bradman (John Romeo) and Mrs. Bradman (Elizabeth Henry). He is described as “pleasant-looking and middle-aged,” while she is “fair and faded.” Not much to go on, but Romeo slyly conveys the good doctor’s weariness at seldom getting what he wants, and Henry’s Mrs. Bradman humorously walks the line between dippy and steely.
Torstveit’s galumphing and bewildered Edith provides delightful comic relief from the self-absorbed shenanigans of the others.
Sturdy throughout, Lindemann shines when it dawns on Charles that he can have the best of — literally — both worlds. He’s just un-self-aware enough not to think through the logistics of the situation: “astral bigamy” is what Coward calls it!
Pale as a ghost, of course, Perry’s Elvira haunts the premises she once commanded. She’s beautiful, wistful, and mischievous. “Oh, what fools these mortals be” — yet Elvira is still driven by the same earthly urges she once had. A sparkling performance.
Schuyler’s Arcati is both exasperating and intriguing. She seems confident about what she’s doing, but when supernatural events begin to occur, she appears to be as amazed as everyone else! Schuyler’s twinkle and verve make this medium rare.
And Rabine is extraordinary as Ruth, who becomes increasingly unraveled as worlds collide. Act II, scene i, in particular, shows Rabine’s physical and vocal range as she creates a disheveled contrast to the martini-sipping lady of the manor at the top of the show.
The show’s theme song is “Always.” You know: “I’ll be loving you always.” Ah, be careful what you wish for!
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theater, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: through May 6
HOW MUCH: $62.50-$20
MORE INFO: 518.445.7469, or capitalrep.org