The Jungle Theater opened its 20th anniversary season this weekend with an endearing but bumpy performance of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit. Written in the 1940s, the comedy saw a Broadway staging last year, starring Angela Lansbury.
The play begins on the night of a dinner party hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Condomine (Michael Booth and Amy McDonald). Looking for inspiration and authenticity for his new book, Mr. Condomine invites the local psychic, Madame Arcati (veteran local actress Wendy Lehr), to entertain for the evening with a séance. Expecting to be more entertained by the sheer lunacy of Madame Arcati rather than by any spirit she could possibly conjure, the non-believing couple experience quite the shock when Mr. Condomine’s first wife Elvira starts appearing to him.
|blithe spirit, presented through march 28 at the jungle theater. for tickets ($20-$35) and information, see jungletheater.com.|
Blithe Spirit has the potential to be a true comedic nail-biter, but the pace of the plot is weighted down by Coward’s dialogue-heavy script and director Joel Sass isn’t quite able to compensate. Thankfully for Sass, and the audience, Lehr never lets the ball drop. She channels the eccentric psychic with ease, reviving every scene she’s in the moment she steps on stage. She is fully committed to the wackiness of Madame Arcati, right down to the hilariously choreographed movements she uses to channel the other world.
Booth and McDonald are less successful. They both feel a bit removed from their characters, which suits their relationships with one another, but not with the audience. For the entire first scene, neither my friend nor I could quite figure out what sort of accent they were going for. McDonald redeems herself slightly in the second act when her character experiences a life-changing moment and returns to the stage more confident and less rigid, but it remains hard to sympathize with Booth through all he experiences.
Kate Eifrig is stunning as the late Elvira, full of energy and life (so to speak). Hers is an entrance to remember: she flows through a doorway of windblown curtains, inspiring gasps from many in attendance. Eifrig successfully walks the thin line between obnoxious ghost and charming lost spirit. When Elvira finally decides she wants to go home, she has the audiences’ support, but whether that’s because we finally understand her frustration with her circumstance or if we’re ready for her to go too, I’m not quite sure.
Rounding out the cast are Kirby Bennett and Sam Landman as the Codomines’ dinner party guests and neighbors, and the talented Georgina Stoyles who plays the sometimes thankless, yet pivotal, role of maid Edith. Sass’s set design is effective and I would be lying if I said I didn’t utterly enjoy the tricks he used during the play’s final moments, complete with trembling mantelpiece and other crashing objects that made me think of a certain successful Broadway show. Still, this really is a character piece and in the absence of truly outstanding performances—Lehr aside—it falls flat. Perhaps with time it will find its feet.