One of the often performed and well-loved genres of community theatre is known as the "drawing room comedy." These are light, sophisticated productions typically set in a single room with characters who are members of polite society. British playwright Noel Coward was a master of this type of writing; many of his plays have been performed by theatre companies ranging from high schools to Broadway. Mitchell Area Community Theatre excels at this type of show, and those who appreciate witty dialogue and elegant manners will enjoy this performance of "Blithe Spirit."
The play is, at its heart, a ghost story. It first debuted in London in 1941 at the height of World War II, Coward's attempt to entertain during a dark time. The plot concerns the novelist Charles Condomine, who invites the eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The scheme backfires when he is haunted by the ghost of his annoying and temperamental first wife, Elvira. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who cannot see or hear the ghost.
What makes this production so enjoyable is the veteran cast that director Al Jacklin has assembled. The dialogue is jocular and dense, but these seasoned actors handle it well, even the (mostly) consistent English accents. Charles Condomine is played by Levi Arens, a perfect selection for the stuffy socialite, married to second wife, Ruth, the always delightful Megan Reimnitz. Interloper/ghost Elvira is portrayed by Amy Giesler (who can be seen by the audience but not the cast, save Charles) in fine fashion.
It is a treat to watch Micaela Nelson, one of ACT's best character actresses, playing Madame Arcati. The cast is rounded out by Heather Adams, Eric Van Meter, and, in her on-stage debut, the enchanting Abby Adams, who depicts the household maid as flighty and scattered until a surprise twist gives us new insight into her character. I hope that Abby will become a frequent fixture on the ACT stage. She is one to watch in the future.
Credit for the set design belongs to scenic designer Patrick M. Strain. This production design was originally created for the Portage High School in Portage, Wisconsin. Everything about the show is luxurious, including the lovely living room, the decor, and the period costumes selected to add color and movement to the action. Lighting by Devin Carey is exquisite. Of particular note is the makeup design used on the Elvira character.
"Blithe Spirit" and other shows like it are not heavy in message or life lessons. One writer in a review of a Harvard-produced drawing room comedy said it best: "It is the nature of theater and not the content of the play itself that is important. ... But always it teaches us how to observe and how to learn from observation. And the more we learn how to do that, the less we approach the world with prejudice and preconception. The more we learn to watch, the less we learn to judge."
The show by Area Community Theatre has performances Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 4, at 2 p.m. at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theatre or more information is available at 996-9137 or www.mitchellact.org.