Tacoma Little Theatre’s second show of its 99th season is Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” a light-hearted and witty comedy that — with its emphasis on a return of the dearly departed from beyond the grave — is perfectly in sync with the Halloween season. This TLT production, directed by Chris Serface (who is also TLT’s managing artistic director), is marked by a stellar cast augmented by well-designed set, costumes and lighting.
As always, there are cocktails available as a pre-play or intermission refreshment. For “Blithe Spirit,” one can choose between “Elvira’s Ectoplasm” (melon liqueur, vodka, sour mix and a dash of Sprite with a lemon) or the “Madame Arcatini” (a dry-as-a-bone martini). Drinks go for $6, but you get a dollar off if you buy a TLT reusable sippy cup for $3. You thereafter get the dollar discount for every drink at every play at TLT.
The story has an acidic charm — a light-hearted love affair with ghosts, but with sinister undertones (as in, “The ghost is trying to murder you, dummy!”). Set in Kent, England in 1940, the play drops its audience into the living room of a well-off English couple that, middle age, seem quite comfortable together. The husband, Charles Condomine (Jed Slaughter), is a writer of novels and his wife, Ruth Condomine (Deya Ozburn), runs a household consisting of a few servants. Charles is working on a book involving a clairvoyant medium and wants to hold a séance so that he can observe how such individuals are able to dupe the gullible with their claims of contact with the spirit world. During the séance, there is a cosmic hiccup and Charles’ first wife Elvira (Brittany D. Henderson) is brought into the house to haunt Charles, who is the only one who can see or hear her.
Charles goes from skeptic to true believer and seems quite delighted at sharing the house with both his wife and his dead wife. He is accused of having become a “cosmic bigamist.” Once Ruth is convinced of Elvira’s presence, however, she sets about trying to exorcise the house of its resident phantom. The medium, Madame Arcati (Dana Galagan), is brought back to the house so that she can set things right. Once again, things do not go according to plan and the house ends up being haunted by the shades of two ex-wives who bicker with each other and torment poor Charles.
The lines of Coward’s script are delivered with droll, English accents that come at the audience with rapid-fire delivery. It takes a few minutes to tune in to the wavelength and get up to speed with the characters. Once onboard, however, the attentive audience member becomes the recipient of liberal sprinklings of the sort of wry and subtle humor that marks Coward’s comedies.
All of the actors in the play feel perfectly at home in their parts. The versatile Ozburn catches every nuance of Ruth’s intelligence, dry sense of humor and jealousy. Slaughter is perfect as the genteel, middle-aged writer who drinks martinis and has brandy with cigars after dinner.
Galagan lights up the stage with pizazz as Madame Arcati, the bicycle-riding clairvoyant who is pleased as punch when she learns that she was able to bring a real ghost into the house. She is less concerned that she has no idea of how to get rid of the ghost afterwards.
Henderson, wearing a wig the color of white bread, pale makeup and black lipstick, flits and saunters all over the stage in her role as Elvira, the vivacious ghost who has come back to haunt and even to lay claim to her husband.
Two guests at the séance, Doctor and Mrs. Violet Bradman, are played by John Saunders and Darla Smedley. Saunders makes for a delightfully squirrely doctor and Smedley plays her role with an infectious giddiness. A fair share of the comedy goes to SarahLynn Mangan, a Stadium High School student who plays the part of Edith, the house maid who has the habit of running everywhere.
While at first willing to go with the flow and welcome Elvira into the house, Charles becomes less enthused as he and Elvira began to relive some of the less pleasant aspects of their marriage — things that would better have been laid to rest. They end up wishing for a sort of paranormal divorce from one another.
Noël Coward (1899–1973) was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit and style. Coward had great success as a playwright, publishing more than 50 plays during his life. Many of his works, such as “Hay Fever,” “Private Lives,” “Design for Living,” “Present Laughter” and “Blithe Spirit,” are now staples of the theater to this day. Coward also wrote hundreds of songs, more than a dozen musicals, screenplays, poetry, short stories, the novel “Pomp and Circumstance” and an autobiography. Coward’s stage and film acting and directing career spanned six decades, during which he starred in many of his own works.
TLT’s well-honed production of “Blithe Spirit” is full of moments in which the stage seems to become a spell-binding vision, a living, breathing work of art set vividly in front of the audience. This is a perfect play for this time of year when the veils between the worlds of the living and the not living grow thin.
“Blithe Spirit” runs through Nov. 5 with showings at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. For tickets and further information visit tacomalittletheatre.com.