Theatre — Bedford Off-Broadway gets spooky

Bedford Off-Broadway gets spooky

By Michelle Saturley

Blithe Spirit clever, whimsical British comedy 

You might call Bedford Off Broadway the little community theater company that could. Their spring production, Blithe Spirit, was plagued with crises that might have canceled another theater company’s plans. First, the group struggled to find volunteers to work backstage on the production crew, forcing the handful of dedicated techies to serve double duty at times. (President Tom Lianza and producer Ken Hawkins helped build the set, served as house managers, and ran the sound effects for the Thursday night show.) Their longtime resident fund-raiser and artistic director, husband-and-wife team Larry and Rita Dusseau, announced that they are moving out of the area. Then, unexpected tragedy struck when actress Tammy Krakie, originally cast as Ruth, had to drop out of the production just two weeks before the curtain opened due to the sudden death of her husband.

Of course, you wouldn’t know any of this sitting in the audience, because this small-knit family of actors has pulled together an impressive, funny show.

Blithe Spirit is a glib, whimsical British comedy written by everyone’s favorite parlor humorist, Noel Coward. The show is directed by company artistic director Rita Dusseau, who clearly has a grasp of the language and class satire that’s essential to most of Coward’s work.

The action starts when Charles Condomine (played by Allan McPherson) and his wife Ruth (Judi Mitchell) prepare for a dinner party in their 1930s home in the British countryside. Charles is an author hoping to write a new book about the occult, and as part of his research, he’s invited the local weirdo who may or may not be psychic, Madame Arcati (Monique Quinta). They’ve also invited some stuffy social counterparts, Dr. Bradman (Neal Blaklock) and his wife Mrs. Bradman (Terri Cadorette). The Condomines are proper people who like everything to be perfect, and instruct their rather spastic new maid, Edith (Maria Barry), to control herself for the evening.

Before their guests arrive, Ruth brings up the subject of Charles’ first wife, Elvira, who died seven years ago. Though Ruth, who is a bit matronly but still attractive and witty, seems confident enough in herself, she’s obviously a little touchy on the subject of her husband’s first wife, and begins pressing Charles in classic passive-aggressive style to answer her question on which woman is more physically attractive. Charles is saved from having to answer when their guests arrive. First come the Bradmans, who make upper-class small talk, and then the flamboyant Madame Arcati, who leads them in a séance.

Madame Arcati quickly falls into one of her “trances.” She unwittingly conjures up the ghost of Charles’ dead wife, Elvira. At first, Charles is the only one who can see and hear her, but soon the willowy, dark-haired Elvira makes her presence known to everyone in the household. Elvira also makes it clear that she’s not going anywhere, and she’s not thrilled to see that Charles has remarried. Things are further complicated when Charles seems to prefer the company of Elvira’s ghost to living, breathing Ruth.

Will Charles figure out Elvira’s macabre plans to reunite with her husband? Will Madame Arcati figure out how to send Elvira back to where she came from? Will Ethel, the maid, recover from her nasty spill down the stairs? These are things you’ll have to find out by attending the show yourself.

The cast offered stellar performances at the sneak preview last Thursday. Allan McPherson is wonderful as the bewildered, henpecked husband Charles. He’s comfortable with Coward’s language, uses his body and face well onstage and plays well off the other actors. Judi Mitchell nails the character of Ruth, the classic British upper-class wife who thinks she’s liberated and modern, but underneath is a bundle of insecurity. It’s hard to believe that Mitchell only had two weeks to learn a considerable amount of wordy dialogue and find the center of her character. Melissa Groff is highly watchable as Elvira, an intriguing blend of bohemian woman and petulant child. Monique Quinta, as the eccentric Madame Arcati, channels Carol Burnett as Nora Desmond, with comic results. And, as usual, local character actress Maria Barry steals her scenes as Edith, the eager-to-please house servant with a secret of her own. Neil Blaiklock and Terri Cadorette skillfully fulfill their roles as the uptight and slightly bland friends of the Candomines.

The other big star of the show is the set. When the curtain opened to reveal a tastefully decorated 1930s British home, the audience broke into applause. Set decorator Diana Kelly did an admirable job making this living room come to life. The set pieces work well in the small space, and the actors look comfortable arranging tables for the séance or tucking into breakfast.

Taken at face value, Blithe Spirit is a breezy, entertaining evening of standout performances. Take into consideration all the obstacles the cast and crew overcame to present the show, it’s even more remarkable.

Blithe Spirit will run one more weekend, April 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. at the Bedford Town Hall, located on Meetinghouse Road in Bedford. For more information about the show, or about volunteering with Bedford Off Broadway, call 577-1805 or send an e-mail to info@bedfordoffbroadway.com.

-Michelle Saturley

 
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