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Theater review: 'Blithe Spirit' at A Noise Within

October 14, 2010 |  4:00 pm

ANW10-11BlitheSpirit-BS113-3"Blithe Spirit" has been a surefire crowd-pleaser since its 1941 London premiere, and its imaginative revival at A Noise Within should sustain the average. Noel Coward's deathless "improbable farce" about a second marriage sent haywire by the first wife's ghost receives an engrossing account, agreeably quirky, reliably stylish.

Reportedly dashed off in six days during the Blitz, Coward's boulevard structure remains effective. Doing covert research, novelist Charles Condomine (the adept Scott Lowell) and second wife Ruth (Jill Van Velzer, atop her game) host a séance with local medium Madame Arcati (riotously gung-ho Jane Macfie). The Condomines think it all bogus -- until predatory Elvira (Abby Craden, dead-on) sashays in from the afterlife, perceptible only to Charles.

Director Dámaso Rodriguez keeps the complications smoothly cascading around designer Kurt Boetcher's typically fine set. Less archly whimsical than is usual for the property, Rodriguez's literalist approach locates a dash of urgency beneath the frivolity.

Lowell hilariously traces Charles' bewildered consternation, trapped between two aptly contrasting foils. Van Velzer wisely avoids playing Ruth for sympathy, building her rising annoyance with tickling precision. Craden delivers a deliciously corporeal Elvira, who suggests a Bloomsbury Group pinup in costumer E.B. Brooks' satin chemise and crocheted shroud.

The wardrobe is variable -- the Condomines and their guests (Gibby Brand and Jacque Lynn Colton, luxury casting) wear suitable period garb, Arcati's getups could use more Kent-meets-India eccentricity -- but why quibble? Boetcher's set and James P. Taylor's lighting nail the key spectral tricks, sound designer Doug Newell's compositions skewer "Masterpiece Mystery," and Alison Elliott turns parlor-maid Edith into a knee-slapping hoot. That buoyant reaction permeates this beguiling manifestation.

-- David C. Nichols

 "Blithe Spirit," A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Runs in repertory; see www.anoisewithin.org for schedule. $42 and $46. (818) 240-0910. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.


Photo: Jill Van Velzer, left, Abby Craden and Scott Lowell. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

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