Feb 28, 2012
Can a husband be unfaithful with his first wife’s ghost? Is it “astral bigamy” as his second wife suggests?
These and other odd questions fly around in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit—along with furniture and airborne household objects—in this haunting supernatural couples comedy. It opens Feb. 29 for one weekend at HSU.
In a fashionable English country home, two very sophisticated couples invite an eccentric local woman to hold a séance, which goes frighteningly wrong when the ghost of mystery writer Charles Condomine’s first wife Elvira appears to him, and sticks around to frighten his new wife, Ruth.
The ghost’s appearance is just the beginning of the mayhem. The real mystery becomes what she plans to do to reunite with her remarried husband. The answer leads to more complications, and the frantic efforts of the eccentric Madame Arcati to separate the lively dead from the living before further mischief erupts.
Blithe Spirit was one of Noel Coward’s most successful plays. Its first run cheered 1940s wartime London as it became the longest running comedy of that time, and it soon had Broadway laughing as well.
The HSU production is directed by Jyl Hewston. “Everybody likes a good ghost story,” she observed, “and everybody likes a good comedy. This play combines the two.” That’s the simplest reason for producing Blithe Spirit at HSU. But as part of Humboldt State University, the Theatre, Film & Dance department has educational aims as well.
In choosing its upcoming season, the department had goals it wanted to address. “They wanted our students to have the experience of doing a classic play, a period play,” Hewston explained. “So we’re doing this play in its period of the 1940s, with the costumes, makeup, research and performance style of that period. Plus it’s British, and the script screams out for British accents. It’s a huge challenge, which is just what an educational setting should provide.”
Students behind the scenes will face new challenges as well. “Design students need the experience of working with a large, box set, and this one has the additional opportunities of a lot of special effects—furniture that moves, things that fly off the mantle and break, and so on,” Hewston said. “We’re doing it in the Van Duzer, because it has the technical facilities for the set and the special effects. But that presents another challenge to our actors. The actors will be miked, but playing to a large house requires more than just talking louder—it’s about projecting energy as well as your voice.”
“As a director,” she continued, “I’m also the advocate for the audience. So in addition to helping the cast interpret the script that’s from another time and place, I’m also watching what appeals to the cast about the script, to get an idea of what their peers might respond to. We want to connect with this generation. That’s also challenging, and exciting.”
HSU students Kyle Handziak and Colleen Lacy play Charles and Ruth Condomine. Lillian Damron is the ghostly Elvira, while Phoebe Sager is Madame Arcati. Lincoln Mitchell and Saundra Dacre are the other couple, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, and Adrienne Ralsten is the curiously essential maid, Edith.
Blithe Spirit will be produced in the Van Duzer Theatre, to take advantage of its facilities for creating the haunted house special effects. Laura Rhinehart is scenic designer, with lighting by Telfer Reynolds and costumes by Rae Robison. Bernadette Cheyne is the English dialects coach.
Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit is on the Van Duzer Theatre stage at HSU for five performances only, Wednesday through Saturday, Feb. 29 to Mar. 3 at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Mar. 4. Tickets are $10/$8 with a limited number of free seats to HSU students at each performance, from HSU Box Office (826-3928) or at the door. Directed by Jyl Hewston, produced by HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance. HSUStage.blogspot.com.