A Noise Within’s Blithe Spirit Review - Noel Coward’s Ectoplasm Shapeshifts Through LA

A psychic recently told me that my maternal grandmother looks over me from the beyond. I was thrilled over this; I was her special grandson who played the piano, fetched her cigarettes, and carried her enormous purse while she battled with salespeople at John Wanamaker. The psychic went on to say that my grandmother (who we called “Nanny”) was smiling brightly during our reading because of all the good things she saw coming my way. And to her credit, Nanny’s entering the room was pretty gentle; just a knowing smile from my young female psychic, and then perhaps a gentle breeze through the otherwise ordinary parlor.

Jacque Lynn Colton (Mrs. Bradmna), Scott Lowell(Charles Condomine), Jane Macfie (Madame Arcati), Jill Van Velzer (Ruth Condomine), Gibby Brand (Dr. Bradman)

You will not be so lucky in the parlor that Noel Coward created in the wicked masterpiece Blithe Spirit. When you enter Coward’s room, have a hard drink in one hand, cigarette in the other, and the good sense to deny any nasty mischief you’ve accrued with anyone, dead or alive.

Charles Condomine (played by Scott Lowell) and his wife Ruth (played by Jill Van Velzer), affluent English Countrysiders of the 1930s, invite a local channeler/mystic to entertain their dinner guests with a Victorian-style séance set around a table in their well-appointed living room. The fez-wearing psychic, Madame Arcati, proceeds to conjure the ghost of Charles’s first wife, Elvira. With a biting dialogue, whose rhythm is beyond the first three layers of your conscious mind, Coward unravels then dematerializes the frailties and truths of the love connection.

Jill Van Velzer (Ruth Condomine), Abby Craden (Elvira Condomine), Scott Lowell (Charles Condomine)

A Noise Within’s production of Coward’s ironic WWII mega-hit is played out on a thrust stage at A Noise Within’s theatre in old town Glendale. This intimate staging worked well to include the audience in the action, provided that the actors projected their lines effectively (which they did most of the time). I enjoyed the dimensional complexity of the character blocking in this setting as I experienced the trans-dimensional elements of the storyline.

Scott Lowell delivers strongly as the love-shattered Condomine. His performance was without sentiment, wholly given over to the story. The terrain of Coward’s ensemble pieces must be negotiated carefully. Lowell pulls off the conflict of past vs present/living vs dead lovers with high lovability. And because Coward’s works generally play themselves, (as Bach put it, “merely play the right note at the right time”), the contrapuntal motion of Blithe Spirit requires little more than love (and the technique akin to that of a cardio-vascular surgeon) to move forward.

Scott Lowell (Charles Condomine),Abby Craden (Elvira Condomine)

You will enjoy the remaining cast. Abby Craden is a triumphantly whorish Elvira, and Jill Van Velzer does well to counterbalance her as a suburb-tortured Ruth. Coward’s famous creation, the eccentric mystic, Madame Arcati, is a character actor’s mainstay; Jane Macfie’s Arcati is amusingly madcap and frenzied.

But here’s the thing. I was most struck by Coward’s unerring appropriateness to our times. Despite the play being written during the Nazi bombings of London in the early 1940s, there is an eerie subtext that adequately addresses our current spiritual awakening. Many ideas about dimensional shifting are upon us; from space alien visitations to Aztec wake-up calls. Noel Coward serves up a story where the past and present exist concurrently; as if Charles Condomine can be married to two women, both vital, but one dead and the other alive. He finds himself inhabiting a world where the three-dimensional veil becomes increasingly thin; his life becomes a love-amalgam of the present; and the linearity of the life-death struggle vanishes as his consciousness is forced into expansion. By the end of the play Charles shows us that there is no past; that we merely choose a specific point of focus to define our reality.

Abby Craden (Elvira Condomine), Scott Lowell (Charles Condomine)

Who do you want to connect with on the other side? And can you entertain that you’re already there carrying on as if nothing ever changed?

Ask yourself those questions. Reflect upon your answers and the feelings they stir up. And then take in a refreshing breath of Blithe Spirit. Meanwhile, you’ll excuse me; I have to run downstairs and get Nanny her cigarettes.

WHEN:
Sunday, October 10, 2 pm
Saturday, November 6, 8 pm
Sunday, November 7, 2 pm
Sunday, November 7, 7 pm
Saturday, November 20, 2 pm
Saturday, November 20, 8 pm
Sunday, November 28, 2 pm
Thursday, December 2, 8 pm
Friday, December 3, 8 pm
Saturday, December 11, 8 pm
Sunday, December 12, 2 pm
Wednesday, December 15, 8 pm
Thursday, December 16, 8 pm
Friday, December 17, 8pm

WHERE:
A Noise Within
234 South Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91204

TICKET PRICES:
$46 (Friday and Saturday evenings, Sunday matinees);
$42 (Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, Saturday matinees);
$32 (previews).
Group rates and special rates for school groups available

TICKETS & INFO:
818-240-0910 x1
http://www.anoisewithin.org/

Wayne Bethanis

Wayne Bethanis hosts his own TV show, The Wayne Bethanis Show. He is a well-known concert pianist and entertainer and holds a Ph.D in Musicology.

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