There are ghosts, and there’s the Noel Coward version of a ghost story.
Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” plays through March 9 at Moonlight Stage Productions’ Avo Playhouse, directed by Eric Bishop.
Cast your mind back to the late 1930s, when novelist Charles Condomine (Paul Morgavo) and his wife Ruth (Stacy Huntington) await dinner guests including famous medium Madame Arcati (Dagmar Krause Fields), who is to hold a postprandial séance. (Mme. Arcati doesn’t know it, but Charles wants to gather background material for his next novel.)
A few martinis later, Mme. Arcati is passed out on the floor and Charles’ first (now deceased) wife Elvira (Jacque Wilke) is carrying on a conversation only she and Charles can hear. You can imagine how embarrassing that is, especially when your current wife is in the room and responding as if you were talking to her.
Hijinks ensue, especially when the Condomines’ maid Edith (Li-Anne Rowswell) encounters the effects but not the physical presence of Elvira (a phonograph is involved).
Poor Charles now has two wives to bedevil him. Ruth wants Elvira gone; Elvira wants Charles to join her in the other world; Mme. Arcati (as crazy as she is) wants out of this nuthouse.
When Ruth takes the car and runs it into a ditch, Charles gets what he wants: Ruth dies and both of these demanding women are out of his life. And the gay Coward (aka Charles; he wrote the part for himself) gets to stop pretending, at least for a little while.
Coward wrote the play as a self-indulgent romp. He’d spent the previous two years writing for the British government which wanted him (and other British writers) to help build morale and disseminate propaganda during World War II. He also had a heavy personal appearance schedule, which had him flying to Australia and New Zealand as well as around England.
In 1941, he took a breather and cranked out “Blithe Spirit” in a mere six days. It remains his most popular play.
It’s difficult to imagine a better Elvira than Wilke; she has a naturally mischievous look and the figure to do justice to the drapey costumes by Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd. And she’s funny.
Fields’ Mme. Arcati is a hoot, riding in on her bicycle like a misplaced gypsy with a long skirt, huge scarf and lots of gaudy jewelry.
Morgavo cuts a good if a bit conservative figure as Charles. It’s easy to see why he wants to get away from the domineering Huntington.
Sherri Allen and Taylor Bassett don’t have a lot to do but are fine as the other dinner guests.
The real star of this production is N. Dixon Fish’s spectacular set design for the Condomine home: a beautifully appointed room, glass doors leading to the garden, handsome sliding doors leading to the hall, a beautiful chandelier, a fireplace.
“Blithe Spirit” seems a bit dated for the times, but this is a handsome if not sparkling production of it.
“Blithe Spirit” plays through March 9 at Moonlight Stage Productions’ Avo Playhouse, 300 Main Street, Vista.
Thursday and Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.
Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.