Review: Heartbreak House (Writers’ Theatre)

        
        

Writers’ Theatre unpacks Shaw’s layered comedy-drama

        
        

A scene from George Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House", now playing at Writers Theatre.

   
Writers’ Theatre presents
   
Heartbreak House
   
Written by George Bernard Shaw 
Directed by William Brown
at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court (map)
through June 26  |  tickets: $65  |  more info 

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

Staging George Bernard Shaw’s 1919 satire with the expectation that it will carry relevance requires overcoming some steep hurdles. Without an encyclopedic understanding of period social structure, the play can lack gravity. It’s an uneven mix of broad hysterics and droll musings. It’s literary. It’s long.

Martin Yurek and Tiffany Scott in Writers' Theatre's "Heartbreak House" by George Bernard Shaw".Director William Brown clears or at least side-steps those obstacles through his focus on character accessibility and audience immersion, narrowing the gap between what resonates on the page and what functions in presentation. Great care is taken to ease the entrance to the world of the play–literally, at first. Keith Pitts’ scenic and Jesse Klug’s lighting design sprawls from the performance space to the house, stretching the Shotover manor garden as far they can cultivate it. It’s a hypnotic oasis featuring little touches like a delightfully audible pebble walkway, ethereal floating lanterns, and the general comforts of a privileged family. Think a 20th Century Midsummer garden.

But unlike the tightly-wound lovers who dwell in Shakespeare’s forest, Shaw’s well-to-do find no contentment under each others’ spell–only unrequited desires and disillusion. When young Ellie Dunn (Atra Asdou, romanticism embodied, well-cast as the wide-eyed guide) accepts an invitation to her friend’s (Karen Janes Woditsch) home, she discovers and is ultimately overcome by a web of self-consumed entitlements and entangled loves. If there’s any enchantment to be found, it’s in the thought of total liberation from the mythical heartbreak house and its emotionally-deteriorating inhabitants. Here, sleep is just paralysis.

     
Kevin Christopher Fox and Martin Yurek in Writers' Theatre's "Heartbreak House" by George Bernard Shaw". John Lister, Kareem Bandealy and Karen Janes Woditsch in Writers' Theatre's "Heartbreak House" by George Bernard Shaw".

Writers’ production speaks to what can be unearthed amidst the anguish of love gone awry and the catharsis of reckless abandon. As social commentary, not even a slight update–pushing the story up to WWII–makes the class predicaments entirely identifiable. Well-acted as the performances may be (John Reeger, Janes Woditsch and Tiffany Scott leading the strong ensemble), tedium undercuts several stretches within early scenes. Sex, too, is lacking. Improper seduction perpetuates some of the comedy, and jealousy and wanting perpetuate most of the story–both are dependent on clear sensuality. This Heartbreak could benefit from more. It’s a slow simmer, but by Act III, those shortcomings are easy to forget. Shaw’s skepticism on marriage and relationships progress from era-dependency to something more universal with each act. For all its long-windedness, Heartbreak’s takeaway is the final wordless tableau: a group unified by disappointment, knowing to move on, and looking to the sky for its own destruction.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
  

Karen Janes Woditsch, Martin Yurek and John Reeger in Writers' Theatre's "Heartbreak House" by George Bernard Shaw".

George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House continues through June 26th, with performances Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm and Sundays at 4pm and 8pm. Tickets for all shows are $65, and can be purchased through Writers’ website. Running time: Two hours and 45 minutes, which includes two intermissions. 

     
     

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Review: Solo Works (Theatre Zarko)

  
  

Fragments of a puppeteer’s life

  
  

Theatre Zarko puppet - from Solo Works, Spring 2011

  
Theatre Zarko presents
   
Solo Works
       
Created and performed by Michael Montenegro
at Noyes Cultural Center, Evanston (map)
through May 21  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Michael Montenegro has long held a singular place as Chicago’s master puppeteer. With Solo Works at Theatre Zarko in Evanston, he returns to his roots —a set of simple performances that recall his early days performing for children at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Most of Chicago’s theater community remembers him through his haunting, ethereal contributions to Mary Zimmerman’s Argonautica in 2006 or Writers’ Theatre production The Puppetmaster of Lodz in 2007. Plus, critical accolades have heightened attention to his brainchild Theatre Zarko, with Klown Kantos/The Sublime Beauty of Hands in 2009 and Haff the Man/Falling Girl (our review ★★★★), which we named as one of the top 25 shows of 2010. Montenegro eschews the limelight, but, more often than not, his ever-changing artistry draws a small but extremely devoted following.

Theatre Zarko puppet - from Solo Works, Spring 2011Solo Works displays the craftsman alone with his puppets—a modest presentation pared down to the most basic elements of light and darkness, spare proscenium, and one musician, long-time collaborator Jude Mathews, at a low lit keyboard, providing most of the production’s carnival atmosphere. As such, each short theatrical piece forms a fragment or a mediation on the puppeteer’s life. “Myself at Ten” starkly sets a black and white photo of Montenegro at 10 years old atop his darkly dressed adult body, with a simple four-legged puppet that he manipulates to run, walk, stretch and leap. It wordlessly explores a boy’s budding discovery of the ability to animate inanimate objects–filled with enigmatic wonder and not a little hint of control. But the question of who controls whom pops up again and again.

“Sing” cunningly portrays a man coming home to disrobe and unveil his latest purchase, a bird in a birdcage that he exhorts to sing. But nothing can be exacted from bird without a little performance from the man first. Likewise, both “A Man with A Bag” and “A Short Lecture” reveal the ever-present danger of puppets taking control, once they assume a life of their own. Even “Gustavo” depicts a puppet violinist being dictated to by his own violin, which opens its toothy mouth and makes demands like, “I want to go to Hawaii,” or “I want to be a cello.” Time and again, Montenegro’s creations make Id-like pronouncements that inform, critique or disrupt the puppeteer’s course of action. It’s a testament to Montenegro’s skill that he can transform his bare hand into a puppet with a menacing presence. But more to the point, the puppeteer must respond to what he has vivified.

Theatre Zarko puppet - from Solo Works, Spring 2011By far, the evening’s boldest, most enigmatic and existential work may be “Giacco,” wherein a grotesque, almost ghostly head is manipulated to speak, urging another puppet, formed only by Montenegro’s back, to run toward the crowd. But Solo Works mixes intricate, esoteric puppetry with elements of crowd-pleasing, Punch-and-Judy street puppetry. Childlike rudeness and joy blends with the graceful, the magical and the profound. What is more, Theatre Zarko always produces work in constant evolution through the course of the run–the show an audience sees one night may not be the same the next.

At times, the fragmentary nature of Solo Works frustrates because it lacks a strong cohesive arc. But that will not prevent anyone from becoming absorbed, moment-by-moment, by the master’s dreamlike figures sculpted from wood, wire and cloth. The figures may reflect a life made up of pieces and bits–found, repurposed, and re-awakened.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
     
     

Theatre Zarko puppet - from Solo Works, Spring 2011

Solo Works continues through May 21st at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm.  Tickets are $15 at the door, and reservations can be made by calling 847-350-9275.  For more information, visit www.theatrezarko.org

  
  

Review: Do the Hustle (Writers’ Theatre)

     
     

Creating despicable characters we could care less about

     
     

Patrick Andrews and Francis Guinan in Brett Neveu's  'Do the Hustle' at Writers' Theatre

  
Writers’ Theatre presents
   
Do the Hustle
  
Written by Brett Neveu
Directed by William Brown 
at
Writers’ Theatre, Glencoe (map)
thru March 20  |  tickets: $  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

A father and son scuffle over a cup of hot chocolate. The boy walks out in a rage. The cashier bonds with the dad over tough parenting. In response, the father pulls a fast one and steals $10. Writers’ Theatre presents the world premiere of Do The Hustle. Eddie is teaching Sam the family business. The mark, the build-up, the take, father teaches his son the important elements of the perfect con. The duo executes a progression of swindles to get to the big pay off. The scamming hits close to home when the rip-offs get personal. Who is zooming who? Do The Hustle is a series of dark, biting stings that swell into a big ouch.

Patrick Andrews, Karen Janes Woditsch and Francis Guinan - Brett Neveu's 'Do the Hustle' at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe.Playwright Brett Neveu penned a chain of seedy intrigues. Playing the audience, the con within the con within the con surprises and baffles. How did they do that? The repeated dialogue is authentically redundant and natural family-speak. The dysfunctional relationship between father and son is well-established. The missing nut in this shell game is the connection. Neveu has created truly flawed characters. They are distinct and despicable. But Neveu comes up short on the big score by cheating the audience of a person to care about. It is no “catch me if you can’ – “the dirty rotten scoundrels” run “the sting” under a “paper moon.” The con artist can be an endearing good bad guy! The double-dealing father, the scheming son, the bitchy grandma, the addict mom: whether they are the confidence men, shills or victims, no one bamboozles empathy.

Under the direction of William Brown, the long con is paced dynamically. Set-ups transition into the next with movable doors (scenic designer Kevin Depinet) that illustrate the location. Andrew Hansen (sound designer) aids in the placement with doors opening to street noises. With minimal furnishings and props, the door generated sounds set the scene. The focal point is the action. And Brown directs it to loathsome heights. Francis Guinan (Eddie) is perfect as a fast-talking louse. Patrick Andrews (Sam) acts out cons of cons with masterful earnest but malicious intent. Joe Minoso and Karen Janes Woditsch excel in multiple roles. Minoso goes from invalid to pawn to rifleman with extensive versatility. Woditsch plays shrew from every angle. The cast is wonderful! I just don’t like any of them. In the end, Do The Hustle had a great beat but I couldn’t dance to it.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Patrick Andrews, Francis Guinan, Joe Miñoso and Karen Janes Woditsch - 'Do the Hustle' by Brett Neveu at Writers' Theatre.

Do the Hustle continues Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Wednesdays at 2pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 6pm, with performances occurring at Writer’s Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe.  For more info, visit www.writerstheatre.org.

Running Time: One hundred and five minutes with no intermission

  
  

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REVIEW: She Loves Me (Writers Theatre)

Writers’ creates a sweet-smelling love story

 

Kevin Gudahl, Heidi Kettenring and Bernard Balbot in SHE LOVES ME - now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe.

   
Writers’ Theatre presents
   
She Loves Me
  
Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by
Jerry Bock, Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by
Michael Halberstam
at
Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe (map)
through November 21st  |  tickets: $65-$70   |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

When a day brings petty aggravations and my poor frayed nerves are all askew, I forget these unimportant matters pouring out my hopes and dreams to you.’

Writers’ Theatre presents She Loves Me, a romantic comedy written in the 1930’s that went Broadway (1960’s) before going Hollywood (1990’s) – all originating from the the 1930’s play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklós László. This original “You’ve Got Mail” is set in a 1930’s perfumery. Georg and Amalia are bickering co-workers. Unbeknownst to either, they are also anonymous pen pals in a lonely hearts club. The big clandestine meet-up disappoints and surprises both of them. Can Heidi Kettenring and James Rank in SHE LOVES ME - now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe. detestation blossom into affection? In a time when relationships bud, bloom, and wither with a Facebook status click, She Loves Me is an uncomplicated, lyrical love letter. Writers’ Theatre delivers this old-fashion romance with first- class singing, certifiable casting, and collectible vintage costumes.

The four-piece orchestra is faintly visible but perfectly audible on the stage behind a faux storefront. Under the musical direction of Ben Johnson, the band hits the whimsical balance to accompany the action and the singers. Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock developed a score that showcases each ensemble member with a solo opportunity. Individually, the singing is outstanding. Collectively, a repetitive number thanking customers is a hilarious, harmonious, memorable send-off. In the leads, Rod Thomas (Georg) and Jessie Mueller (Amalia) channel the hate-love in a believable comedy combo as scorned co-workers and love-searching optimists. Thomas brings ice cream to a depressed Mueller in a pivotal scene that is a sweet she-likes-me moment. Thomas is all sugar (again) to Mueller’s salt in the cutesy pairing of opposites. Under the direction of Michael Halberstam, the entire cast blends together to create an enjoyable light, breezy romantic scent. Providing powerful whiffs with a lingering sass, Heidi Kettenring (Ilona) sings of betrayal and new love with wit and resolution. Setting the ambiance for a romantic atmosphere, Jeremy Rill is the animated waiter dishing up laughs with a side of showboat.

 

James Rank and Bethany Thomas in SHE LOVES ME - now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe. Rod Thomas and Jessie Mueller in SHE LOVES ME - now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe.
Jessie Mueller in SHE LOVES ME - now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe. Jeremy Rill, Bethany Thomas and Andrew Goetten in SHE LOVES ME - now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe. Ross Lehman, Kevin Gudahl and Rod Thomas in SHE LOVES ME - now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe.

Dressing up the ensemble with 30’s finery, Nan Zabriskie provides a multitude of exquisite costumes. The chorus coming and going from the shop provide a marathon vintage fashion show. Beautiful! Halberstam, along with choreographer Jessica Redish, provide many amusing, visual stunners, including; Christmas shopping and silhouette dancing. Not quite the Anna Karenina of romantic literature, She Loves Me has all the guarantees of a blockbuster romantic comedy. It requires limited emotional or intellectual investment and promises laughs and a happy ending. She Loves Me makes finding love simply a pluck of the petal to determine the emotional connection: she loves me, she loves me not, she loves me… Aw, if it was only that easy, dear friend!

   
   
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

Running time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes a ten minute intermission

 Rod Thomas, Kelli Clevenger, James Rank, Bethany Thomas, Kevin Gudahl and Stephanie Herman in SHE LOVES ME - now playing at Writers' Theatre in Glencoe.

 

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REVIEW: A Streetcar Named Desire (Writer’s Theatre)

A wrenching ‘Streetcar’ of desire

 

streetcar01

  
Writers’ Theatre presents
  
A Streetcar Named Desire
  
by Tennessee Williams
Directed by
David Cromer
at
Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe (map)
through July 11  tickets: $65  |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

David Cromer has quite a gift. Apparently, he can rescue any brilliant yet overdone play from the annals of community theatre and breathe a vibrant energy into those dusty scripts. At least, that’s what we’re led to believe considering his ingenious productions of Our Town and Picnic. We can now add to the pile of evidence his A Streetcar Named Desire over at Writers’ Theatre.

streetcar03 This production is a revival in the true sense of the word. Instead of hashing out a bland carbon copy, Cromer finds all kinds of unique tricks in Tennessee’s text but all the while he maintains a sacred reverence for Williams and his blistering story. As a result, his Streetcar is as searing as July in the French Quarter.

The play, Williams’ finest, is epic in scale. It explores domestic abuse, deceit, homosexuality in post-WWII America, love, and a ton of sex, along with Chekhovian-style class conflicts. Cromer gathers all of this and crams it onto the tiny stage at Writer’s. Collette Pollard’s brilliantly intimate design places the audience a few feet away from the action. You cannot help but feel voyeuristic as you watch Stella, Stanley, and Blanche claw and clutch at each other.

What makes the production crash along, however, are the individualistic, desperate performances. From his first step on-stage, Matt Hawkins makes some bizarre choices as Stanley. He’s sleazy, cocky, yet lovable. Even though he explodes often, he’s not incessantly threatening. He has to frequently remind himself that he is king of his castle, making him a man and not a monster. Hawkins makes no attempt at a Brando impression, but Writer’s production doesn’t need nor want that. It also helps that he shares the stage with two powerful females—Natasha Lowe’s reserved Blanche and Stacy Stoltz’s compelling Stella. Lowe doesn’t steep Blanche in sexuality, but pushes her cold shrewdness instead. She slashes away at those around her as she is ripped apart herself. Lowe’s Blanche is neither saint nor villain. Stoltz, Hawkins’ real-life wife, turns in some great work in a part that can be overlooked if a director isn’t careful. I’m used to her performing in stylized pieces with The Hypocrites and House Theatre, so it was refreshing to see her in some classic American realism. Her Stella is a fighter, refusing to be steamrolled by Stanley’s machismo. The relationship between the two is fascinating to watch unfold—you can sense real love between them, not just animal desire (although there is a lot of that, inches away from our seats). This forces us to ask if love is enough for a marriage, because their love is definitely not healthy. Although Stanley is convinced all their problems stem from Blanche, to us there seems to be a fundamental disconnect.

stacy-stoltz-as-stella streetcar02

Throughout the piece, Cromer sprinkles in original tweaks that make the production shine and resonate. The ghosts that sweep through Blanche’s mind are put on stage, for example. Williams’ script is also hyper-sexualized here. The production would never pass censors in the 1950s, but today it rips open the major theme of the play: desire. Cromer seems to have a desire for flame on-stage, because he utilizes it so well. The scene between Blanche and Mitch (the laudable Danny McCarthy), where Blanche lays out some secrets, is stunning because most of it is lit by candlelight alone. Cromer is brave and bold—many of his choices bring the audience into his characters’ heads, especially the unstable Blanche.

My one critique of the show is that there are some sightline issues, deriving from both the cramped set and some of the staging. At times it seemed like turning the actors a few degrees would have solved it, which is why it became a bit pesky. However, it was not nearly enough to derail my involvement with this piece. Cromer corrals us into this world, and the powerful ensemble drags us along whether we like heading towards the impending cliff or not. When the house lights finally turn on, it feels like a tiny chunk of your soul has been ripped away.

   
  
Rating: ★★★★
 
 

streetcar02

FEATURING: Loren Lazerine, Natasha Lowe, Danny McCarthy, Rosario Vargas, Matt Hawkins, Jenn Engstrom, Esteban Andres Cruz, Stacy Stoltz, Carolyn E. Nelson, Derek Hasenstab and Ryan Hallahan

PRODUCTION TEAM
Scenic Design by Collette Pollard
Lighting Design by Heather Gilbert
Costume Design by Janice Pytel
Sound Design by Josh Schmidt
Properties Design by Meredith Miller

Designers get their due at 17th Annual Merritt Awards

Designers celebrate theatre accomplishments

 

2010 Merritt Awards 

By Katy Walsh

Scenery, lights, sounds, costumes; theatre design is devising storytelling beyond the dialogue. On Monday, May 3, 2010, Chicago gathered at the Goodman Theatre to celebrate the role that designers play in the theatre community. The festivities brought together veteran and rookies in the theatre design world for networking and fellowship. The focal point of the evening was the 17th Annual Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration. The award honors the memory of Michael Merritt. Best known for collaborative work with David Mamet, Merritt was a Chicago theatre designer who died at the age of 47 in 1992. The Michael Merritt Endowment Fund preserves Merritt’s legacy with awards acknowledging established designers, nurturing emerging designers and encouraging design students.

The evening started with the 4th Annual Theatre Design Expo. Design students from across the country, along with a handful of Chicago designers, set up displays in the Goodman foyer to showcase their theatre portfolio and aspirations. After viewing the colorful and imaginative exhibits, guests trooped into the Owen Theatre for the Dialogue with the Designers panel discussion. Moderated by the Goodman’s Artistic Director Robert Falls, the group discussed the challenges and accomplishments of collaborative efforts in theatre. The panelists were Michael Bodeen (composer, sound design), 1997 Merritt Award winner John Boesche (projection designer), 2007 Maggio Award and 2004 Merritt Award winner Ana Kuzmanic (costume designer), The House’s Artistic Director Nathan Allen, and tonight’s Merritt honoree Collette Pollard (scenic designer). Following the panel discussion, the awards ceremony commenced.

First, the Michael Merritt Student Scholarships were bestowed on students from Chicago theatre programs:

Costume Design

Jeremy W. Floyd, Northwestern University

Lighting Design

Wade Holliday, Columbia College
The John Murbach Scholarship for Collaborative Design

Scenic Design

Williams G. Wever, The Theatre School at DePaul University 

 


2010 Merritt Awards

Next, the 2010 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award was awarded. The award honors the memory of Goodman’s Artistic Director Michael Maggio. This year’s recipient:

Scenic Designer

Collette Pollard, 2010 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award

Pollard’s recent design credits include The Illusion (review ★★★) at Court Theatre, Stoop Stories (review ★★★½) at Goodman Theatre and The House on Mango Street at Steppenwolf Theatre. Her next production opens next week at Writers’ Theatre, Streetcar Named Desire. Pollard has also worked with many Chicago companies, including; The House Theatre of Chicago, Timeline Theatre, Northlight Theatre, and About Face Theatre. Pollard earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts with honors in scenic design from The Theatre School at DePaul University and her Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from Northwestern University. Currently, she teaches at Columbia College Chicago.


The evening climaxed with the Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration presented posthumously in honor of the lighting and scenic design work of Michael Philippi.

Lighting and Scenic Designer

Michael Philippi (1951-2009)

2010 Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration

Philippi passed away suddenly on his way to a technical rehearsal for High Holidays at Goodman Theatre on October 27, 2009. His most recent work was enjoyed at Goodman Theatre in productions of Desire Under the Elms, King Lear, Finishing the Picture, A Life in Theatre, Moonlight and Magnolias, and The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? Philippe also worked with many Chicago, national and international companies including: Northlight Theatre, Court Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Guthrie Theatre, Berkley Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He was a recipient of Jefferson Awards for Terra Nova and In the Belly of the Beast, both at Wisdom Bridge Theatre, and Hollywood Drama-Logue Awards for Kabuki Medea at Berkley Repertory Theatre and Changes of Heart at Mark Taper Forum.

The 2010 awards program and fundraising event was co-hosted by the Michael Merritt Endowment Fund Steering Committee at Columbia College Chicago and Goodman Theatre. Sponsors included Electronic Theatre Controls, Inc., J.R. Clancy Inc., Schuler Shook, Rent Com, Rose Brand and Steppenwolf Theatre.

2010 Merritt Awards

REVIEW: Blithe Spirit (Steel Beam Theatre)

A spirited show in the suburbs

 

blithe

 
Steel Beam Theatre presents
 
Blithe Spirit
 
By Noël Coward
Directed by Terry Domschke
Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main St., St. Charles(map)
Through May 2 tickets: $23-$25  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Theaters may be fewer and farther between than in Chicago, but such companies as Steel Beam Theatre, Writers’ Theatre and Metropolis Performing Arts Centre continue to show that there’s culture in the suburbs. As airy as an unseen specter, Steel Beam’s Blithe Spirit is a frightfully good time.

blithe%20daily%20herald%20text700_rightTerry Domschke directs a delightful production, full of deft touches. Everything from the carefully arranged period drawing-room set to the clever costumes shows a fine attention to detail. Produced in three acts with two intermissions, just as it would have been in at its 1941 London opening, it makes you understand why the original ran for 1,997 performances amid World War II. The timing could be a trifle more brisk, but that’s quibbling.

Noël Coward’s keen and cutting wit shines in this delectable play. The plot centers on novelist Charles Condomine and his second wife, Ruth, a flippant and debonair couple who invite the local psychic for dinner and a seance. They, and their other guests, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, are skeptics: The evening is merely a ruse to provide background for Condomine’s upcoming book.

But the medium, Madame Arcati, turns out to be the real thing. She accidentally conjures up Condomine’s deceased first wife, Elvira, who refuses to go away again — turning the Condomine household into an otherworldly menage a trois.

Orange-haired, behatted and draped in necklaces, Donna Steele’s marvelous Madame Arcati galumphs around the stage, jingling, in colorful costumes and comic triumph — at turns fussy old woman and majestic mystic — emanating palpable glee at each spiritual manifestation.

R. Aaron Thomann is ever so urbane as Charles, stirring up martinis and placating his live and ghostly wives with wonderful expressiveness. At first convinced he’s going mad, he selfishly comes to appreciate having his first wife’s witty shade on the premises … at least until the dead woman’s real purpose for reanimating becomes apparent.

steel-banner Elvira isn’t the kind of ghost who clanks about in chains and a sheet. She’s ethereally lovely and sharp as knives. Although only Charles can see her, the ghostly lady still manages to infuriate the priggish Ruth, who becomes bent on exorcizing her spirited rival.

Jocelyn Mills plays an effervescent Elvira, glittering with ectoplasmic makeup and always ready with a riposte. Katherine Bettinghaus provides counterpoint as a fuming, but elegant, Ruth, although her emotional scenes sometimes seem a little forced. Meredith Koch offers some fine comic turns as the inept maid Edith, hurrying and scurrying, while Thom Reed and Nancy Kolton fill out the cast as the stolid Bradmans.

Blithe Spirit may be Coward’s frothiest comedy, an ethereal confection of a play. While it’s become something of a period piece, there’s life in the old ghost yet — as Steel Beam Theatre’s hilarious production shows.

 

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

blithe-letting