Sophisticated and Saucy “Blithe Spirit” at OSP Entertains
The pandemic is virtually over, yet there are still a few cases that crop up. No community has been hit harder by Covid-19 than the theatrical community here in Oklahoma City. The virus and the lockdowns directly and indirectly have had a major impact on every theatre in the metropolitan area and Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park has been working hard to overcome these difficulties as we recover and move forward. But this pandemic will always be with us now and like the flu or the cold it will sneak up on us as a surprise. Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park has had just such a surprise with “Blithe Spirit” a delightful English drawing room comedy by the master playwright, Noël Coward. The play concerns a successful writer, Charles Condomine, who is writing a book about a homicidal medium. To gain greater insight he and his wife, Ruth invite a well-known medium to their home for dinner and a séance. They are joined by Dr. and Mrs. Bradman. The result is hilarious pandemonium!
The play is directed by D. Lance Marsh, a very experienced and talented director and actor. Unfortunately three days before the opening of “Blithe Spirit” leading man, Greg White, was stuck down with Covid. It is, hopefully a mild case, however, going on stage was out of the question. Without an understudy the only option outside of cancellation was for Marsh to play the role of Charles Condomine. With only three rehearsals left, Marsh has taken over the role with great skill and confidence.
From a critical standpoint it is easy to see the difficulties that Marsh and fellow cast members have to overcome. Nevertheless, this is a perfect opportunity to find out exactly what an experienced cast are capable of revealing in such a performance. Of course, it isn’t perfect. Marsh already knows his lines, as director he started the memorization process with the advantage of familiarity with the script. He reveals a little trouble with his cues and is temporarily forced to carry the script on stage for the performance.
Noël Coward is rather a wordy playwright, and full memorization is quite a feat. Nevertheless, Marsh accomplishes the performance with superb skill and characterization. The script becomes invisible in his hands because his interpretation of Charles Condomine is complete. Marsh exhibits grit as well as talent and dedication in this role.
It is also hard for fellow actors, as occasionally they are called upon to ‘cover’ when a snag occurs. The entire cast of “Blithe Spirit” exhibits great skill in this feat, as well as adapting immediately to the changes in characterization that must occur with a different actor in the main role. Renee Krapff is Ruth Condomine, played with skill and interest. These two characters have an interesting chemistry and they react to one another with perfect harmony.
Lydia Gray is Elvira Condomine, the first wife of Charles Condomine who died laughing at a BBC Musical Comedy. Condomine experienced a completely different kind of relationship with his first wife, a flighty and amusing creature quite removed from the practical Ruth. Gray and Marsh capture this marital relationship perfectly. The difference in the two marriages is as distinctive as the similarities.
Dr. Roberta Sloan is the quirky Madame Arcati, renowned as a medium of some skill and professionalism. The role of Madame Arcati is humorous and a great deal of fun to portray and Sloan plays her beautifully. It is as if she has spent her entire career performing with great skill but always rehearsing and growing into the age that would allow her to portray that part that has her name on it, Madame Arcati, as if Coward had written it specifically for her.
David Patterson is the ideal Dr. Bradman and his wife, Violet, is played by Caitlin Cairns. The good doctor and his wife represent an almost stereotypical version of the typical English mentality of the period and as a result these supporting roles stand out revealing the consummate skill of the two actors.
The maid, Edith is played by Emily Wollenberg. This is a fun role, small but of supreme importance. Edith nearly steals her scenes if played by a skilled actor. Emily Wollenberg makes every scene with Edith amusing and delightful embracing the role as it should be embraced—with fun and love.
As director, Marsh has put together a superb comedy guaranteed to entertain. As Charles Condomine he creates an excellent character, and although the first performances are a little rough around the edges the performances will be smoothed out and performed beautifully by October 27 the second weekend of “Blithe Spirit” scheduled. The brilliance of Noël Coward will assuredly be a delight for the audience. Greg White worked very hard in this role, and Marsh’s ability to build on that solid foundation is ourstanding. White’s dedication and effort has not gone to waste, and “Blithe Spirit” is a must see show!
The play runs from October 21 through November 5, 2022. Curtain is 8:00 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a 2:00 pm matinee on Sunday, October 30, 2022. The theatre location is at 2920 Paseo in the quaint Paseo district of Oklahoma City. For tickets and information visit www.okshakes.org or call 405-235-3700.