Apple Hill Playhouse has Ethereal Fun with a “Blithe Spirit”

By Eva Phillips

You know what they say: it’s all fun and games until someone summons your dead spouse from the beyond. When novelist Charles Condomine and his wife Ruth (his second wife, notably) host a dinner party with their friends Doctor and Mrs. Bradman and a very special guest, “esteemed” medium Madame Arcati, they only envision a night of witty conversation, brandy, and observing Madame Arcati’s “craft” so Charles can research for his next novel. But what they expect to be a frivolous evening spent incredulously bearing witness to a kooky woman pretending to channel the spirit world dramatically changes when Charles realizes he can see the specter of his late first wife, Elvira–and she’s not pleased with anything in the world of the living.

These are the absurdist stakes in Noel Coward’s abundantly-droll, melodramatic comedy Blithe Spirit. Coward’s examination of the fabric of relationships through the lens of paranormal occupation is a fitting choice for Apple Hill Playhouse’s final show of their season: it is pithy yet understated, blending banal life issues with ludicrous deus ex machina-esque plot interventions and interruptions. Matt Mlynarski returns to Apple Hill Playhouse as Director of Apple Hill Playhouse’s adaptation of Blithe Spirit, and his clear and well-studied vision is a boon to the production and his cast. The finesse and delicacies Mlynarski imbues throughout the play reflect his intimate understanding of and deep appreciation for the material, resulting in a play that feels satisfyingly well-crafted production.

What is first worth noting is the absolutely sumptuous, cozy stage layout created by Set Desinger Ben McDonald, Scenic Artist Sarah Bender, and constructed, as always, by McDonald Productions. The set, which is a gorgeous sitting room in the Condomine’s home, is beautifully detailed and functional, and the stage layout works exceptionally well in conveying far more space than is shown or visible to the audience. Mlynarski’s work in Costumes, complemented by Cori Berardino’s Prop work, exquisitely furnishes and accentuates the gorgeous set.

Coward’s work is notorious for verbose dialogue replete with quick banter and frequent grandiloquences. All the performers in Apple Hill Playhouse’s production of Blithe Spirit meet the task of tackling Coward’s script ably and enjoyably, engaging with the material with robust ease and confidence. As Charles’ two wives, in their various forms, Briana Downs and Rebekah Hukill–Elvira and Ruth, respectively–are truly the driving forces of the show. Hukill is surefooted and engaging, comically and realistically handling her husband’s unwitting invitation of the spirit realm into their home in the form of his dead wife. As the aforementioned dead wife, Downs is as delightfully bawdy and precocious, allowing the heart of the oft-absurd Elvira to peek out occasionally. Betsy Novotny is a phenomenal scene-stealer as the Condomine’s overly zealous maid, Edith, and it’s pleasure to see her on stage more in a variety of roles.

Blithe Spirit is a wonderful, well-paced evening of theatre, and a great way to bid farewell to another successful Apple Hill Playhouse season. Just don’t poke to vigorously at the spirt world if you’re not prepared to live with what pokes back!

Blithe Spirit plays at Apple Hill Playhouse through October 6th. For tickets and more information, head to Appel Hill’s homepage.

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