Theater Review: “Blithe Spirit”
“It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit,” these are the words of Noel Coward’s leading man, Charles, in the incredibly funny farce, “Blithe Spirit,” currently running at Swift Creek Mill Theatre.
Featuring a talented ensemble cast typical of Swift Creek’s productions, “Blithe Spirit” is set in Kent, UK and centers around married couple Charles (played by Richard Koch) and Ruth (played by Vicki McLeod), whose marriage becomes threatened when Charles’ first wife Elvira (played by Rebecca Anne Muhleman) is conjured up by eccentric medium Madame Arcati (played by Amy Berlin) during a séance that was supposed to be “just for fun.” Elvira soon ends up living with the couple, tormenting the fragile Ruth and making a fool out of up-tight, waspy Charles, as he is the only one who can actually see her.
All of the actors do an impressive job pretending not to see Elvira, as Muhleman glides around the set right in front of their eyes. Muhleman is beautiful as the beguiling phantom with perfectly placed facial expressions, gasps, chortles, and eye contact. She did, however, drop her accent for a brief time in the second act.
Amy Berlin is as hilarious as ever as Madame Arcati, proving how strong she is at physical comedy. Charles and Ruth’s friends, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (played by John Storck Maddox and Jacqueline Jones) are present at the initial séance and Jones was a highlight of this production for me as her mannerisms, well placed giggles and over all “silly-woman-ness” caused me to laugh out loud every time she was on stage. Maddox and Jones have a natural chemistry that makes their relationship feel authentic.
The talented cast is rounded out by Laurel Maughan, playing Charles and Ruth’s awkward maid, Edith. Maughan has a knack for timing and is the epitome of a actress who takes a small part and fully makes it her own.
The show started about an hour late due to a horrible accident on I-95 causing one of the actors to be stuck in traffic. So, when Maddox’s Dr. Bradman appeared on stage for the first time stating, “Sorry we’re late, traffic was awful,” the audience, many of who had been stuck as well, knowingly sympathized.
The technical crew (Tom Width, Paul Deiss, Joe Doran and Maura Lych Cravey) did a good job on this production with the set, lighting, and costumes to create a beautiful overall experience for the audience, with ambient lighting and impressive special effects.
Due to ”Blithe” being a play with a lot of action there are some technical elements that may have been overlooked, such as an apple left under the couch that was not supposed to be there and a particular instance where Elvira drops something in the room with Ruth present and Ruth does not notice the sound.
The costumes for all the characters were gorgeous and very well made, but Madame Arcati is wearing the exact same clothes, down to the accessories, in the first and last scenes. I kept hoping the reason for this would be explained but never was, and it did not make sense as all of the other characters change their wardrobe quite frequently.
Aside from these small things, this was by far the best show I have seen this season at Swift Creek.
“Blithe Spirit” runs through July 21 at Swift Creek Mill Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit www.swiftcreekmill.com
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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