BWW Review: BLITHE SPIRIT is Marvelously Materialized by The Southside Players
The Southside Players has opened the doorway to classic comedy. BLITHE SPIRIT is a 1940's classic comedy play written by Noel Coward. The play follows socialite and novelist Charles Condomine (John McGinnis) and his wife, well his second wife Ruth (Beth Kitchin). John invites an eccentric psychic, Madame Arcati (Carole Armistead) to his house to conduct a séance. He hopes the experience will bring fresh material for his next book. The plan goes haywire and BOOM, POW! Suddenly the ghost of his dead first wife Elvira (Lisa West) appears in all of her annoying glory. Elvira goes hard to work making Charles life and marriage as difficult as possible. Charles is the only one that can see her and this leads to much comedy gold.
Noel Coward is known for writing witty and fast paced dialog. His writing is structured with rapier sharp wit and quick banter that plays like a conversational ping pong between characters.
The Condomine socialites are brought to life with the style of the era. Beth Kitchen plays Ruth, the tightly woven woman of high society. Her husband the bewildered novelist Charles is played by John McGinnis. The duo delivers a performance full of signature 1940's character work. Kitchen and McGinnis share a natural chemistry on stage. Their focused acting effectively delivers the cadence and dynamics of the stylized fast paced dialog Noel Coward is famous for. It's so good. You get lost in their performance, forgetting you are watching a show. Kitchen's holds the poise and temperature of a woman desperately trying to get a foothold on this whole spiritual situation. McGinnis plays Charles with a comic seriousness and sensitivity of a man in a dilemma of the heart. You'll find fun and engaging work from both of these talent actors.
The psychic Madame Arcati is played with ditzy flair by the hilarious Carole Armistead. Her skills at diving into a role are evident in every aspect of her performance. She lights up the stage with honed stage presence and grace. Armistead provides the cadence and wispy physicality of a spiritual guru one would find at a carnival. Armistead has been performing theater in Birmingham since the early 70's. Her stage experience delivers a high-spirited energy into Madame Arcarti. She is a vibrant show-woman who is fully committed to tapping into the other side.
Lisa West is the ectoplasmic enchantress & ex-wife, Elvira. She may be a ghost but she is far from dead. She's perky, bubbly and full of moxy. West perfectly delivers Elvira as a woman with a youthful playful sprit and demeanor. She exudes the perfect poise of a 1940's starlet. The play is something she was excited to be a part of. "It's a hysterical show. Noel Coward's writing is so brilliant. I love how one adjective is used in different ways. I love how he writes different words in a sentence all starting with the same letter." She is beaming with joy just speaking on the role. You can't fake her kind of enthusiasm. She has played Elvira early in her life while at college. "She's like a very charming disgruntled child." West adds a slight Katherine Hepburn inflection and character work in her voice. She goes from fun and flirty to sad and frightened. "The first time I started reading out loud the voice just came to be and it grew over time."
Brad Riegel plays the comedic straight man Dr. Bradman. He gives the role a funny demeanor of an stuffy upper crust physician. Riegel delivers the comedy with focus in the witty dialog, facial expressions and a total commitment into the role. He has a real ear for comedy. "I was driven to this opportunity to work with this great cast and get to do this amazing show." Unexpected things have arisen in the process of putting up the show. "Each night you feel a different experience in the room. I love that part of theater. Those nuances and moments that can play one way or another."
Krissy Warren plays the comically timid maid Edith. This is her third show with The Southside Players. Her comedy timing is spot on and a joy to watch. She's comically expressive without uttering a word. Warren was attracted to the silliness and innocent to role. "Now there's not a lot of depth to Edith. She's horrible at her job even though she tries really hard. She's awkward all the time and I can relate to that." I think we all can relate and that truth is what makes Warren's performance so effectively relatable to the audience. "It is a fun play, I mean how often do you get to run around and act silly."
Amy Light is the talkative Mrs. Bradman who arrives to partake in the séance. She speaks on the role saying, "I really feel Mrs B is funny and cute in her own way. She doesn't have much tact and her tongue gets her in trouble a lot. She's not mean or hateful, just a little impulsive." She reflects on the play saying, "The comedy is very witty. You have to listen and catch it. It's upper crust society and their humor is dry and quick wit. There are some moments in the play that are laugh out loud hilarious"
Hal McIntosh is the director who captures the ambience and signature characters found in those fun comedies of the 1940's. He was smitten with the play many years ago. "I love the sophistication and the witty humor of it very much." When asked what elements stand out, he replies, "Noel Coward called it a farce and although there are moments of physical humor, it belongs in the High Comedy world because of its witty dialogue and sophistication. It truly has something for almost everyone." He directs with attention to comedy using just the right formula. "Our approach was more of the sophisticated humor. I let the individual actors and their characters bring their own comedy to the forefront. I encouraged the actors to find ways to make the comedy more evident to the audience." McIntosh cast the play with specific actors he knew without holding auditions. In an interesting turn of events, its a little known fact that Noel Coward often cast actors he knew to play the roles in his plays. He even crafted some of fictional characters to match the actor's specific presence and personality. How about that for supporting the arts!
Co-Producer Sandra Taylor with The Southside Players is a long time pillar of strength and talent in the Birmingham theater community. Her years of experience have been a blessing to many actors and theater audiences. "Doing theater in this city has been a huge blessing. My passion is to see potential in a personality and intuitively know he or she can act, stage manage, or direct." Taylor has a keen eye and a down to earth demeanor.
The play is performed at the historic Foster Auditorium, which is located in the Southside Baptist church. She comments, "It is not a theater, but theater is happening nonetheless." She gives kudos to the churches music director Tim Banks. "He had a vision to use his incredible talent to explore the many artistic choices. We saw an opportunity to grow spiritually and use our talents for this kind of venture." Taylor is excited about offering more performances with the increase of arts in the community. "Birmingham theater has tapped a wonderful new energy with Tim at the helm of our artistic venture at the church." Director Hal McIntosh agrees. "I've always loved the theater and have always wanted to share that love with as many people as possible. Southside Center for the Arts and Humanities, of which Southside Players is a part, decided that perhaps we could bring theater from another era to Birmingham.
This production of BLITHE SPIRIT is quality. Kudos to the costumers Mary Taylor Gurney, Patti Manning and to Laura Kilgore Barnett who is the long-standing theater wig master in Birmingham. They made the actors look spectacular. The clothes and hair added a wonderful signature element of the era to the performance. Another Birmingham theater legend Kathleen Jensen designed a set that seems to be right off a Hollywood film. The set is crafted and detailed as if it is its own character in the play.
This production of BLITHE SPIRIT is a fun performance that is sure to make you laugh. Some of the audio challenges of the theater work against actors who talk fast or are not projecting. Overall though It has all the elements of great theater and high comedy. You got a group of funny characters dealing with shenanigans from the spirit world. I wonder if ghost therapy is covered under Obamacare?
Southside Centre for the Arts & Humanities - Foster Auditorium (located at Southside Baptist church) 1016 19th St S, Birmingham, AL 35205
Remaining shows - May 19 and 20 at 7:00pm and May 21 at 2:30pm Tickets are $25 for Adults and $15 for Seniors (55+) and Students
Click here for tickets
For more information, call 205-933-8381