Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Dean's review of Heathers: The Musical
I don't know if Coward was influenced by the success of the movie Topper in 1937, but he took the ghost-that-only-one-person-can-see plot and turned it into a clever domestic comedy that still seems contemporary. An author, Charles Condomine (a memorable name), invites a medium to dinner and a séance so he can do research for a novel he is writing in which he plans to debunk the whole psychic business. Amazingly, his first wife Elvira materializes, visible and audible to him but to no one else. His current wife Ruth misinterprets everything he says to Elvira, and this leads to the verge of divorce, but something drastic happens before she can get to a lawyer.
The title comes from Shelley's "To a Skylark," but it's used ironically here. Elvira is a spirit, true, but more malevolent than blithe. I'm probably overthinking the plot, but it seems to me that there's a significant flaw: The person who calls Elvira from the netherworld has no reason to have called her, in fact probably doesn't even know who Elvira was. In any case, plot isn't really the point. Dialogue is, and it's still witty, which is why the play has done well over the years.
Coward's masterstroke was creating Madame Arcati, the psychic, a plum role for "character" actresses over the years. Kathleen Welker, Adobe director, was lucky to get Jen Stephenson to play it. Jen does terrific accents, and her facial expressions and body movements are perfect in this part. (Rule of thumb in Albuquerque theater: If Jen Stephenson is in a play, go see it.)
Kathleen was also fortunate with all the rest of the cast. Everybody is spot on, even in the smaller roles. Linda Holston has a gift for comedy as the maid, and Clifton Chadwick and Sari C. Jensen do good work as the Condomines' friends. It's great to see Lorri Oliver back on an Albuquerque stage, looking quite ethereal as Elvira. Stephen Zamora and Carolyn Hogan both are excellent as Charles and Ruth. When Charles, Ruth, and Elvira are all on stage together, the comic timing has to be just right, and it is.
As usual, Carolyn also did the costumes, which are lovely. The set by Andrea Haskett, lighting by Elisa River Stacy, props by Linda Holston, and sound by Marty Epstein are all very well done. Kathleen keeps the pace brisk, and even though there are two intermissions, the play does not seem long.
If you're a longtime theatergoer, you have probably seen Blithe Spirit once or twice. Even if that's the case, I advise you to see it again at the Adobe. A good production of a good play is always worth seeing.
Blithe Spirit, directed by Kathleen Welker, is being presented at the Adobe Theater, 9813 North Fourth Street NW in Albuquerque (a few blocks north of Alameda). Through January 29, 2017. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Info at www.adobetheater.org or 505-898-9222. Tickets are $17, seniors and students $15. There is a special "pay what you will" performance on Thursday, January 19, at 7:30.