In Blithe Spirits

If you’ve watched the news these days, you might have noticed some grim predictions. But when times get worse, entertainment gets happier, and that’s the case with this new play. Easy to disparage such entertainment as a ‘laugh machine,’ but I think that pure fun is a merit itself.
Noel Coward, when once asked how he wanted to be remembered, answered “By my charm.” The playwright and performer had no end of charm, as those who have seen the revival of Blithe Spirit at the Shubert Theater will not doubt. For the umpteenth time, this charming play is being revived, and to great effect.

The character Charles (Rupert Everett) is throwing a dinner party with his second wife Ruth (Jayne Atkinson) and invites Madame Aracti (Angela Lansbury) in order to get material for his next novel about a psychotic medium. They propose to hold a seance, with the result of bringing back Charles’s first wife Evelyn from the other side. The ghost of his first wife can only be seen by Charles, and it drives his second wife–understandably–crazy when he starts talking to the ghost.This simple scenario spins into all matter of situations, not the least of which involves how to return spirits to the other side, as Ruth wishes desperately to do.

The cast would draw a house on it’s own, between the impressively vivacious Angela Lansbury whose first appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Gaslight was over 50 years ago, to the Broadway debut of the beautiful Rupert Everett. Angela Lansbury is an energetic old kook whose seance dances are a delight, while Rupert Everett throws off poised bon mots like a true dandy. Both Christine Ebersole and Jayne Atkinson hold their own against these—dare I say it—charming stars, with a rivalry that makes for many a comic moment.

The times when Coward wrote the play are not dissimilar to our own. Written in 1944, Coward had just left London after his office and apartment were destroyed by a German bombing and wanted to create a “very gay, superficial comedy.” With stocks plunging and unemployment rising, a battered New York audience could use nothing better than this clever comedy and it’s excellent cast.

2 thoughts on “In Blithe Spirits

  1. And that is an excellent point, which certainly underscores the necessity of fact checking rather than relying on memory…

    Thanks Will!

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