This ever-popular farce concerns the predicament of a man who must face his imperious and jealous wives when they return from the afterlife to haunt him. “It is the last word in witty repartee of the most civilized kind—the sort of thing Noel Coward was known for, and nobody did better.”
To anyone familiar with the great Noel Coward, this statement, obviously, describes one of his most popular plays, namely, Blithe Spirit, with which INDEPENDENT PLAYERS will close its 39th Season. It runs Fridays and Saturdays, May 5-6, 12-13, 19-20 at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division Street, Elgin. Curtain time is 8 PM.
Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in five days during World War II. In the spring of 1941, as Londoners endured the Blitz, superstar playwright Noel Coward slipped away to Wales to work on a new script. “Title [is] Blithe Spirit,” he wrote in his diary. “Very gay, superficial comedy about a ghost. Feel it may be good.” Six days later, the play was finished. Writing later, he said that the play literally “fell into my mind and onto the manuscript.” At this time, Coward was hugely famous on both sides of the Atlantic. In a production schedule that seems unbelievably fast by today’s standards, the play opened at London’s Piccadilly Theatre just weeks later on July 2, 1941. At the premiere, the audience walked on planks over rubble caused by an air-raid to watch a play that seemed to giggle at death. It premiered on Broadway at the [now-demolished] Morosco Theatre on November 5, 1941. Even more amazing is the fact that only two lines were dropped and none were altered during rehearsal of what the playwright dubbed “An Improbable Farce in Three Acts.”
This ingenious play tells how novelist Charles Condomine invites into his placid country home an eccentric medium in order to learn the language of the occult. He sees this as an entertaining way for him to research his latest novel, and invites two guests to share in the mockery. The séance staged by the medium summons Charles’ first wife, Elvira, who died of a heart attack while listening to a comedy show on the BBC Light Programme and has been dead for five years. Only Charles can see her, which leads to immediate comic confusion when this mischievous lady from beyond stays to torment Charles by reminding him of their days and nights together. The briskly efficient and very-much-alive second wife Ruth takes offense at comments Charles makes to Elvia that she mistakenly assumes were directed at her.
Charmed at first by the umbral Elvia, who even in life was somewhat ethereal, Charles quickly finds himself caught between two jealous wives. Eventually, the first wife has a ghostly plan: if she can get Charles into an automobile accident and make a ghost of him, life in the spirit world will have more appeal for her. Mistakes occur and it is Charles’ second wife who takes the fatal automobile ride—only to return with the first wife to plague the utterly astral bigamist. Ultimately, Charles manages to extricate himself from these very blithe spirits in a hilarious conclusion to this unusual farce.
The plays of Noel Coward are no strangers to INDEPENDENT PLAYERS in that it produced Design for Living in 1983, Private Lives in 1987, Hay Fever in 2007, Waiting in the Wings in 2011 and now Blithe Spirit in 2017. Mark Steensland, the production’s director, cites this show as one of his favorites. Since 1980, Mark has directed 12 IP shows and acted in 15 others, the most recent of which are An Ideal Husband, Hay Fever, Mr. Pim Passes By and The Bald Soprano at the 2015 Elgin Fringe Festival. Steensland has selected a cast which consists of seven actors all of whom have appeared in at least one IP show. Steve Connell, for example, joins us for his tenth IP production having starred in Uncle Vanya, Tribute, Cyrano de Bergerac and, musically, in Company. Beth Hitzeroth-McDonald has sung in The Club (twice) and Working, and more recently starred in the Octette Bridge Club and Calm Down Mother. Yvonne Alton returns to IP after a long hiatus having starred in Heartbreak House, On the Verge, An Ideal Husband and When We Are Married. Lori Rohr joined IP in 2015 when she starred in Mr. Pim Passes By and followed that with The Octette Bridge Club, Third and Calm Down Mother. Dean Gallagher starred in Rabbit Hole in 2014, Angela Douglass starred in The Octette Bridge Club and Rebecca Stellato made her debut in Many Moons in 2012 and has worked behind the scenes for numerous other shows. IP is delighted to have them all back sharing their talents with once again in Elgin.
Once again, Blithe Spirit runs for three weekends (Fridays and Saturdays), May 5-20, at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division Street, Elgin. Curtain time is 8 PM. Tickets are available on line at independentplayers.org (credit card only) and will be available at the door each evening (cash/check only). Tickets are $15, Seniors (65 and over) are $12 and Students (14 to 21) are $10. For reservations or further information, call (847) 697-7374. The director, cast and crew hope to see you there!