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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Manchester Little Theatre's production of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" sophisticated witty fun

Three Stars (good)

Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester, Connecticut

Production: by Noel Coward. Directed by Joseph Keach-Longo. Stage manager Tom Goodin. Set design by Fred T. Blish. Lighting design by Lee Hammitt. Sound design by Jared Towler. Costumes by Pam Puente and Solveig Pflueger.

Running time: 2 ½ hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Show Times: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. through May 18.

Tickets:$16 - $23 Seniors over 60 and students receive a discount. Call the box office at 647-9824, or visit their Web site at


Alyson Orenstein … Edith

Nicole Giguere … Ruth

Brian Ballou … Charles

Nick Demetriades … Dr. Bradman

Betty L. Olson … Mrs. Bradman

Karen Sidel … Madame Arcati

Christy Donahue … Elvira

By Kory Loucks

Published May 6, 2008 in the Journal Inquirer


If you enjoy listening to urbane sophisticates engage in witty repartee and ribald banter over a few dry martinis, then you'll love "Blithe Spirit," in production at the Little Theatre of Manchester through May 18.

This very English drawing room comedy was written by that apparently supercilious bon vivant, Noel Coward, during World War II in 1941.

Coward, who reportedly wrote the play in five days after his London office and apartment were bombed in a German blitz, said in his autobiography that he decided to write an escapist comedy for the war-torn populous. The show was a huge hit, running for over 2,000 performances.

Coward may have dashed off the play in five days, but memorizing the intricate, voluminous, rapid-fire dialog undoubted required intensive weeks of preparation by the Manchester Little Theatre cast, who fortunately were up to the task.

Set in 1941 in a country home in Kent, England, the plot concerns a novelist, Charles Condomine, played with delightful urbane wit by Brian Ballou, who with his second wife, Ruth, played with a knowing sophistication by Nicole Giguere, invites some guests to dinner, along with a clairvoyant, Madam Arcati, to conduct a séance.

The guests are the Dr. Bradman and his wife, convincingly played by Nick Demetriades and Betty L. Olson, while Karen Sidel played Madam Arcati.

All are highly dubious in their own way of the otherworldly proceedings, except Mrs. Bradman, but Arcati is used to such skepticism. Sidel portrays the spiritualist with a matter-of-fact earthy practicality and conviction, giving an air of possibility to the otherwise unbelievable events.

The contemplative ever-professional Arcati at one point advises Charles, quoting Shakespeare's "Hamlet," that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy," while at another time says she has some Ovaltine at home in a saucer just waiting for "hotting up."

Charles Condomine's first wife, Elvira, who has been dead for 7 years, returns as a result of the séance, but only Charles can see and hear her. Christy Donahue plays the ethereal, petulant, and manipulative Elvira with a winning grace and wicked charm.

The young, flighty, fluttering maid, Edith, whose actions turn out to be the story's linchpin, is played with a sweet daftness and earnestness by Alyson Orenstein.

There is something peculiarly satisfying about hearing smart people argue intelligently about silly things, such as when Charles tells his second wife Ruth that she is so controlling she won't even allow him to have a simple hallucination after she accuses him of being didactic and puerile.

The pyrotechnic barbs are so witty and brilliant, one can almost forgive Coward his blatantly misogynistic perspective.

The costumes, by Pam Puente and Solveig Pflueger, fit the period well, while the set designed by Fred T. Blish is a sturdy and appropriately elegant English country manor.

"Blithe Spirit" has been a perennial favorite of community theater company's for decades. Coincidentally this same play is concurrently in production at the Suffield Players, allowing lucky theatergoers a choice of two venues to enjoy this hypnotic and clever play.

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