A man who has two wives could be inviting a lot of problems. When one of the wives is a ghost, he's inviting a lot of comedy.
Comedy is what British playwright Noel Coward had in mind when he wrote Blithe Spirit in 1942, in the midst of World War II. Audiences flocked to the show, looking for lighthearted relief and a bit of nostalgia, and it became one of Coward's biggest hits.
Although humor has changed over the years, the show remains a lot of fun, Gerald Blanchard said in a telephone interview. He's directing the Croswell Opera House's production, which opens tomorrow in Adrian.
Audiences may find the dialogue formal by today's standards, but that's part of the appeal. Coward lived into the 1970s, but stylistically, he never got out of the 1930s, Blanchard said. That was when he was at the peak of his popularity, and he had a deep knowledge of and great affection for the period.
Blithe Spirit doesn't start out with a ghost, but in the course of research for his new book, author Charles Condomine invites a medium, Madame Arcati, to perform a sance in the home where he lives with his second wife, Ruth. The medium, who really doesn't know what she's doing, accidentally summons the spirit of Charles' first wife, Elvira, and she isn't too happy that Charles has remarried.
This gives rise to at least three problems: Charles is the only one who can see and hear Elvira; Ruth believes Charles is either drunk or hallucinating, and Madame Arcati doesn't have the slightest idea of how to make Elvira go away.
"It's so silly," Blanchard said of Blithe Spirit. "The whole idea of a man trying to arrange with his wife to let the ghost of his first wife stay with them is made for laughs."
The Croswell's almost all-Michigan cast stars Jim Glenn of Ypsilanti as Charles. Glenn is making his debut at the Croswell, having recently moved to the Ann Arbor area, and Blanchard says he's a fine addition to the area's acting ranks.
Cindy Farnham of Palmyra, who is the Croswell's director of marketing, plays Ruth, Sheri Silver of Jackson is Elvira, Susan Eversden of Tecumseh is Madame Arcati, and Peter Mackey of Adrian and Gay Thacher of Brooklyn play friends of the Condomines. Grace Engel of Toledo plays Edith, the maid.
The show was originally set in the 1940s, but Blanchard and scenic designer Don Wilson have shifted it back to the Art Deco period of the 1930s. "It's more for visual effect," Blanchard said. "It was a much more graceful period."
"Blithe Spirit" opens tomorrow and runs through April 23 in the Croswell Opera House, 129 East Maumee St., Adrian. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. A matinee is scheduled at 3 p.m. April 23. Tickets are $20 for adults and $18 for seniors and students. Information: 517-264-7469 or www.croswell.org.
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