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BWW Review: BLITHE SPIRIT Provides Spirited Laughs at Theatre Baton Rouge

Haunting comedy perfect serves much needed laughs

BWW Review: BLITHE SPIRIT Provides Spirited Laughs at Theatre Baton Rouge

Historically, Noel Coward's BLITHE SPIRIT has been a regular favorite from the West End to Broadway and beyond, with no signs of stopping after seeing the running production on Theatre Baton Rouge's stage. Directed by Clay Donaldson, the evening was a welcome respite from the "real world," providing moments of laugh-out-loud effervescence that are much needed during a pandemic.

The plot centers on one Charles Condomine, who lives with his second wife, Ruth. As part of his research for his next novel, he invites spiritualist Madame Arcati to hold a séance in his home. However, he is skeptical over her abilities. That night would become one neither he nor Ruth would ever forget as Arcati accidentally summons the ghost of Charles' first wife, Elvira, and this spirit has plans to reclaim her rightful place by Charles's side. It's just a shame only Charles can see Elvira, leading Ruth to believe he has gone mad. As Elvira tightens her hold, Charles becomes the center of a love triangle he never asked for between the passionate, sensual Elvira and the calm, collected Ruth.

The two wives prove to be perfect foils to Charles's sometimes flighty personality as he tries to please both women only to fail miserably at the same time. Victoria Clement, as the manipulative Elvira, is coquettish yet alluring as she plays with Charles' emotions in a deadly game of cat and mouse, causing strife in his second marriage. As Ruth, Lily McGill is perfect as the more serious spouse who worries about the state of Charles's mental health while trying to figure out how to exorcise her home. Brandon Guillory, as the beleaguered Charles, wants his cake and eat it too. His ideal (at first) is to have both wives with zero consequences while giving no thought to their feelings on the matter. Many would point out Elvira as the villain of the story, but I would have to disagree...

As Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, Landon Corbin and Yvonne Eres Nuss were enjoyable as the skeptic friends joining their neighbors as paranormal tourists. And back to community theatre after ten years, Carly Woodard was adorably awkward as Edith, the maid. Her entrances and exits nearly always elicited laughter from the audience, and I look forward to seeing her more often on stage.

This 1940's play, however, lives or dies by its Madame Arcati. From the audience's response, TBR's dame of the stage Jennifer Johnson proved she was the perfect casting choice for the eccentric medium. Johnson existed in a bubble of charm, able to incite as much laughter as she did applause.

Donaldson and his tightly knit cast hit all the right notes of both Coward's style and humor, and it was quite visible the actors were able to enjoy getting lost in their roles. It was also a wise decision to select Jenny Ballard as dialect coach, lending to a more authentic sound.

Truthfully, BLITHE SPIRIT has aged that sometimes the gender politics can feel dated. However, the cast under the direction of Donaldson made it palatable. Charles is no better than the women he wishes to escape from, and the ending is satisfying to know he is never going to be completely free again.

The production team for this play helped bring it to full "after-life." The set, designed by Kenneth Mayfield, was a gorgeous period setting and had some exciting surprises waiting for the audience throughout. The set was nicely complemented by Mayfield's lighting design and Jason Breaux's sound design. Costumes by Ladawn Hill Jones and props designed by Jenifer Prochaska were full of charm.

With theatre back and beginning to thrive once more in Baton Rouge, you don't want to miss a TBR production. Up next for TBR is TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE on May 25-28. For tickets, visit theatrebr.org.


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