Soulstice Theatre brings a rousing "Blithe Spirit" to the stage
As tension rose in Britain on the eve of the World War II, playwright Noel Coward thought the British people could use a good laugh.
He created "Blithe Spirit," and the rest, as they say, is history. The play continues to this day to be one of the most frequently produced plays in the world, and in Wisconsin we had a memorable production at American Players Theatre last year.
Now the little Soulstice Theatre has unveiled its version of this classic, and all things considered they deliver just over two hours of the kind of drawing-room comedy with enough laughs to make us all forget about our troubles for a while.
The story of the play is complex. Charles is married to Ruth. He used to be married to Elvira but she died seven years earlier. Charles brings Madame Arcati to the house for a seance so he can get some ideas for a book he is writing. But Madame Arcati amazingly brings Elvira to the house for an extended visit and the madness ensues.
Charles, whom Coward fashioned after himself, could easily be the star of this play, but at another level it is about two women, Ruth and Elvira, both of whom were/are not happy being married to Charles. We watch their disenchantment become ever more evident and watch as Charles tries to urbane himself out of trouble with his wives.
The two women in this play give us delightful performances.
As Ruth, Shannon Tyburski has the prim and proper British wife locked up. Her squeals give away, temporarily, passionate displeasure, but she always pulls herself back into lockstep with what she thinks her behavior should be. Tyburski is very versatile and climbs emotional ladders quickly and with great clarity. We always know just how she feels.
Jillian Smith is the seductive Elvira, who played around while married and is intent on playing still as the all-but-invisible first wife. Charles is the only one who can see her, but her spells are cast widely through the household. She is a siren, and her sound is both brittle and loud.
As Charles, Stephen Pfisterer is heartfelt, but he misses the suave urbanity that this play calls for. He is too angry and too sad and too perplexed and too misunderstood. Charles is the epitome of the stiff-upper-lip British husband who will persevere through all of life's challenges without falling apart. Pfisterer falls apart too easily and doesn't give us enough of a contrast with the two women. An audience can take only so many people falling apart.
A special word must go to Liz Mistele, who plays Madame Arcati. This is a role made for the big swoon, the elastic gestures and the wonder at being able to actually do what she says she can do. Mistele plays it for all it is worth, and while may be a little bit out there at times, she knows how to milk a laugh and does it with ease. Her battle and lust over the cucumber sandwiches is priceless.
This is the second play in the Soulstice season, and it has wonderfully redeemed itself from a lackluster opening in September when it produced a disaster of a play.
This one again proves they have a solid place in the theater firmament in Milwaukee, and it was joyous to see founder Char Manny direct such a funny and high-class play. Noel Coward would have been proud.
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