Blithe Spirit | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Blithe Spirit 

BLITHE SPIRIT, CenterLight Sign and Voice Theatre, at American Blues Theatre. A production that deepens the roots of theater by branching out, CenterLight's inventive revival of Noel Coward's 1941 comedy employs signing actors onstage and speaking actors at microphones offstage. Their fusion of gesture and tone, expression and intonation, creates a language greater than the sum of its parts.

Directed by Robert A. Knuth (who designed the sumptuous parlor set), the onstage actors sign their native "tongue" --American Sign Language, whose words are often clear as much from the context as from the offstage "translation." Simultaneously (no easy matter) the offstage performers speak, and unencumbered by the burden of blocking put even more into their Kentish accents than if they were "on." The result is theater that's accessible not only to the deaf or hard-of-hearing but to the hearing. It's appropriate that Coward's farce centers on Elvira, the wife whose ghost can be seen and heard only by her former husband, Charles Condomine. A comedy this ethereal needs at least two languages to anchor it.

It would be a mistake to single out performances this interdependent. But together the seven signing and five speaking actors create a remarkably consistent comic texture. The new year begins well, as this Northbrook ensemble brings its equal but not separate theater to the city. --Lawrence Bommer

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More by Lawrence Bommer

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