Blithe Spirit | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Blithe Spirit 

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Blithe Spirit, Attic Playhouse. Noel Coward's 1941 play, written during the blitz in London, wryly mocks death--and so may be unusually appropriate this fall. Unfortunately director James Bagnall's bland production ignores the play's dark underpinnings, instead focusing on the drawing room comedy, though not well.

Geoff Isaac is zombielike as Charles, the middle-aged novelist and skeptic who, in the interest of research for a book, invites a medium to hold a seance in his dining room for himself, his wife, and another couple. However, here there's so little chemistry between him and his wife (a shrill Nancy Schultz) that we're relieved when the dotty Madame Arcati (a jovial Nicola Howard) manages to call someone over from the other side--the novelist's late wife Elvira, who'd died seven years earlier. Though only Charles can see or hear her, Jamie Marchi's mischievous, seductive Elvira has chemistry with everyone onstage, lending her light to what would otherwise be a thoroughly dull three hours. The show's pace is stilted and deadening, and the inexperienced cast--most of whom sport pseudo-British accents--seem flummoxed by Coward's sophisticated, understated dialogue. Only in the last two scenes does the play finally come together, but by then the audience has already crossed over into boredom.

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