Noel Coward was an English playwright with a penchant for setting his works in high society. Renowned as one of the greatest playwrights in modern history, Coward wrote dramas, comedies, operettas, and full-length musicals. His plays are a staple of professional theaters throughout the world.
Perhaps better than in any of his other works, Coward’s comedic brilliance is on display in the funny bone tickler Blithe Spirit. To do the show justice requires an understanding of the nuances of British humor, a dedication to physical humor, and a well-rehearsed commitment to comedic timing.
Now playing through June 26 at the Skokie Theatre is Eclectic Full Contact Theatre’s vibrant and playful mounting of Blithe Spirit that is sure to thrill audiences. No matter if you are a Noel Coward aficionado or just being introduced to his works for the first time, EFCT’s Blithe Spirit is a lesson in hilarity.
Blithe Spirit premiered in the West End in 1941 and made its way to Broadway later that same year. It was translated into film format in 1945. Coward also adapted the play into a musical titled High Spirits that he himself directed on Broadway in 1964.
GHOST IN THE HOUSE
To sum the show up in a few words, Coward’s Blithe Spirit is a comedy about ghosts. Of course, there is far more to the story than just that.
The play takes place in the home of Charles Condomine, a successful English novelist who is set to embark on a new book featuring a psychic medium as the main character. To faithfully capture the spirit of the psychic in his writing, Charles and his wife Ruth invite a real medium (Madame Arcati) to their home for a séance. They are joined in the ceremony by family friends Dr. and Mrs. Bradman.
Things start to run amuck when Madame Arcati’s bridge with the spirit world results in the spirit of Charles’ first wife Elvira coming back from the dead. However, only Charles can see or hear her – making his loving new wife Ruth fear that he has gone crazy.
Together with Madam Arcati, Charles and Ruth try to figure out a way to send Elvira back to the spirit world. All the while, Elvira desperately fights all suggestion that she belongs anywhere but in the home with Charles. What ensues is pure comedic genius.
Eclectic Full Contact Theatre is a very respected Joseph Jefferson Award-nominated Chicago storefront theater. EFCT has also had great success bringing their exceptional brand of theatre to suburban audiences through partnerships with companies like the Skokie Theatre and Arlington Heights’ Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.
The current EFCT and Skokie Theatre co-production of Blithe Spirit is just what the doctor ordered for enjoying great Chicago theater without traveling all the way into the city.
In the central role of novelist Charles Condomine, Andrew Pond is brilliant. He has a very natural demeanor. You never see him acting; from start to finish all you see is a magnificently developed character.
Director Michael Woods puts Pond through the paces of one pratfall after another. It’s clear that Woods has a directorial style that works well with Pond’s talents. Woods’ direction throughout this production of Blithe Spirit is exceptional.
As the two focal women in Charles’ life, Jessica Lauren Fisher and Maiko Terazawa are both delightful. Terazawa as Ruth takes us from confident loving wife to woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. As Elvira back from the grave, Fisher purrs with a sensuality reminiscent of Julie Newmar’s iconic Catwoman.
BIG ON COMEDY
The role of Madame Arcati is one that leaves room for the actress playing the part to go wildly over-the-top. Actresses such as Geraldine Page and Angela Lansbury have put their unique slant on the role. In the EFCT production, Jan Slavin clearly has fun with the role. In fact, the entire cast seems to be having a blast putting on this witty and entertaining production.
The supporting cast also shines. Kudos to Christopher Grella as a stoic Dr. Bradman, Lisa McConnell as the easily excited Mrs. Bradman, and Kaeley Osterman as the Condomine’s maid Edith. Osterman provides some of the biggest laughs of the show.
The set for this Blithe Spirit by Amanda Grissom is simple, but with enough elegance to aptly represent an upscale home in the English countryside. Costumes by Emily Bloomer are also well done.
Rounding out the production staff are production manager Daniel Houle, stage manager Alyssa Jaksa, lighting designer Mike Wagner, and sound designer Laurel Barrett. In addition to her role in the cast, Fisher also handled prop duties for the show.
Eclectic Full Contact Theatre is a production company filled with talent. Bringing Blithe Spirit to life at the Skokie Theatre gives a whole new audience the chance to see what makes this company a rising star in the Chicago theatre scene.
Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through June 26. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 PM, while matinee audiences can enjoy the play at 2 PM on Sunday afternoons.
The Skokie Theater is a lovely venue combining historic architecture with modern flourishes. The theatre is located at 7824 Lincoln Avenue in Skokie, IL. There are several municipal parking lots in the area, as well as options for on-street parking.
The “full contact” part of the EFCT name refers to the company’s unique dedication to allowing the audience a behind the scenes look at the theatrical process – permitting interested parties to attend read-thrus and open tech rehearsals. EFCT also provides backstage and rehearsal videos in anticipation of their productions.
Whether you are a fan of physical comedy or British humor, there is something for everyone in Eclectic Full Contact Theatre’s stellar production of Blithe Spirit at the Skokie Theatre. EFCT’s Blithe Spirit is well worth the price of admission. You won’t be disappointed.
For ticket information visit www.SkokieTheatre.org or call the box office at (847) 677-7761.
For more information on Eclectic Full Contact Theatre visit www.eclectic-theatre.com.
Peace. Love. Trust.
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