“Blithe Spirit” brings witty fun to Main Stage at Steel River Playhouse

I got to spend last Friday night enjoying the clever writing of British playwright Noel Coward and the accents and acting of a superb cast of regional actors, thanks to a complimentary ticket to the opening performance of the play Blithe Spirit at Steel River Playhouse in downtown Pottstown.

Before the play even begins, the audience gets a feel for the comedy that’s about to ensue when the typical announcements (about turning off your cell phone and not eating candy wrapped in that annoying crinkly cellophane) are made by an otherworldly British voice, purported to be coming from the ghost of Noel Coward, the playwright himself. Between that and the classy, mood-setting music of harpist Betsy Chapman, the audience is primed when the set lights up and we are in a quintessential gorgeous Victorian-style living room in the home of Ruth and Charles Condomine of Kent, England. It’s hard miss the dramatic and sensual portrait of a red-haired woman above the mantelpiece.

The set-up is marvelous: Ruth and Charles have invited a local medium to a dinner party with another couple so that Charles can do some research for a mystery he’s writing. (Yes, writers really do stuff like that – anything for a story.) Before their guests arrive, we’re treated to some physical comedy from their hyperactive maid, Edith, relentlessly portrayed by Rebecca Shoemaker. We also learn that the woman above the mantelpiece is Charles’ deceased first wife, Elvira,  he’s still got a thing for her, and his current wife is not oblivious to that. Their guests, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, arrive and then the stage really lights up when the colorful Madame Arcati enters. Played by Steel River’s Artistic Director and co-founder, Deborah Stimson-Snow, Madame Arcati keeps the energy and the comedy rolling for the rest of the evening.

When she conjures up the spirit of Elvira, and Charles is the only one who can hear or see her, we know instantly that trouble is on the immediate horizon for his relationship with Ruth, his current wife. There is a hilarious and long exchange between Charles and Ruth and Charles and Elvira – a literary love triangle – near the end of the first act in which everything he says to Elvira is incorrectly interpreted by Ruth until she goes off to bed in a huff. This delicious bit of writing is carried off without a hitch by Jennifer Dinan (Ruth), Carl Heyde (Charles), and Tara McFalls (Elvira). Now, try to imagine hearing me say in a British accent: This is terribly funny.

As you might expect, Elvira is trouble – not unlike the ghost or the embodiment of any former lover who intrudes upon a current relationship. As Charles and Ruth try to rid themselves of her presence and influence, things get royally botched. I hope I’m not delivering any spoilers here when I say that after several twists and turns of the plot, it becomes apparent that the spirits of these three characters will never be completely disentangled.

I loved this play! It’s loads of fun, the writing, acting, music, set design, and costumes are stellar. The Pottstown region is very fortunate to have Steel River Playhouse in its midst, bringing  outstanding drama to the suburbs of southeastern Pennsylvania. Blithe Spirit runs just two more weekends – this weekend and next – so make your plans and get your tickets now. Cheers!

The remaining performances of Blithe Spirit will take place Thursdays (October 18 and 25 at 7:30PM), Fridays (October 19 and 26 at 8PM), Saturdays (October 20 and 27 at 8PM) and Sundays (October 21 and 28 at 3PM) on the Main Stage. Tickets range from $17-$23. More information and a ticketing link are available at www.steelriver.org or by calling 610.970.1199.

About Steel River Playhouse

Formerly Tri-County Performing Arts Center (Tri-PAC), Steel River Playhouse seeks to strengthen community, inspire creative exploration, educate, and entertain, through the presentation of quality performing arts events and education for diverse audiences. Each year, the Steel River Playhouse produces more than 90 performances and hosts more than 10,000 people as audiences, students, artists, donors and volunteers from throughout the region. We offer performance opportunities through open auditions; theater technical training; acting, voice, and instrumental lessons; classes and workshops for all ages; summer camp programs; and educational outreach including scholarships, artists in the classroom, traveling children’s shows, and other initiatives. For further information, visit http://www.steelriver.org, or call 610-970-1199.

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