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By John Quinn
Review: ‘Blithe Spirit’
Hilberry’s classic farce sure to raise your ‘spirits’
Noel Coward never had a Coming Out Day. He never said he was gay, nor allowed his biographer Sheridan Morley to address his sexual identity. As Charles Isherwood wrote in The Advocate, “ÉCoward’s silence might seem to make him the most politically incorrect gay icon of the 20th century.”
But what a renaissance man! Playwright, director, actor, composer and all-around bon vivant, he was one of the most versatile talents of his time. Eventually known simply as “The Master,” Sir Noel was certainly master of the “comedy of manners,” a theatrical genre full of upper crust, cigarette-holder-wielding sophisticates tossing pointed barbs and dropping innuendos all over the place.
The Hilberry Theatre’s production of his 1941 box-office smash, “Blithe Spirit,” is a chance to meet The Master at his best.
Novelist Charles Condomine needs research for his next book, so he schedules an after-dinner sance, conducted by spiritualist Madame Arcati. Unexpected consequences ensue: Madame isn’t the fraud Charles expected, and she inadvertently materializes the spirit of his wife, Elvira, dead these seven years. This makes him a sort of paranormal bigamist, since he’s been married to Ruth Condomine for the past five years. Marital mayhem ensues – Wife Two can’t see or hear Wife One, and can be forgiven for suspecting that Hubby is certifiably nuts.
Coward seems delighted to lampoon the morals and manners of the social elite, and the play is a rhapsody of style. Men dress in tuxes for dinner, and finish up with brandy and cigars. Ladies in slinky satin “withdraw” for coffee. Coward’s wit flows like fine champagne – dry and bubbly.
While the Hilberry production has the champagne sparkle, it seems a little lacking in “pop.” This is, after all, farce – regardless of the “smart set” mannerisms of the characters. It’s a perfect opportunity for an actor to have some fun. The rolled eye, the satisfied smirk, the bon mot, savored like a bon bon – all are methods of letting the audience know that the actor knows that this is all nonsense, and wants to invite them to share the lunacy. Nick DePinto, as Charles, gets it. He’s clearly having a hell of a time playing a cad, and his good spirits are infectious.
And one could do worse for an evening’s entertainment in this overheated election climate than to step back into a more genteel era, when ladies and gentlemen didn’t need the help of spin doctors to score points.
“Blithe Spirit” Performed in Repertory at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit, through Dec. 11. Tickets: $15 – $22. (313) 577-2960. www.theatre.wayne.edu/t_hilberry.html.
The Bottom Line: Noel Coward’s sophisticated romp is well served by the Hilberry’s amusing production.