Undergraduate Theater Collective breathes life into its performance of ‘Blithe Spirit’

Navigating the relationship between ex- and current lovers can be tricky. Jealousy, insecurity and doubt create tense dynamics, and nobody wants to be caught in the middle. Turn your ex into a ghost, though, and you’ve got a comically awkward situation. This situation is exactly where the cast of “Blithe Spirit” took the audience in the Undergraduate Theater Collective’s (UTC) most recent production. The cast’s capable acting made the nightmare into a hilarious, if at times dark, saga.

The full cast of UTC’s “Blithe Spirit”

“Blithe Spirit” by Noël Coward is set in 1930’s England and centers around novelist Charles Condomine. The main character, played by Abram Foster ’19, invites psychic medium Madame Arcati to a dinner party, looking for some inspiration for his new book. Arcati is the archetypal psychic with wild hair, a crystal ball and a window into the supernatural world. Blake Rosen’s ’21 performance as the zany Madame Arcati was perhaps the most enjoyable of the show, with the perfect amount of over-the-top wackiness.

The dinner party brings together Charles and his wife Ruth (Jess Cocomazzi ’21) and Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Nate Rtishchev ’21 and Alex Harrington ’21, respectively) to attempt to contact the world beyond with Arcati’s help. The very buttoned-up Bradman would have none of Arcati and the seance. With the guests reluctantly holding hands around the dinner table, Arcati summons her “control,” a little girl named Daphne who guides her through the world of the dead. The trance is a little too powerful, though, and Arcati ends up on the floor, much to Dr. Bradman’s displeasure. He and his wife promptly take off, leaving Charles in a terrible mood, which his wife, Ruth, has to deal with.

Though the party is a bust, Arcati is successful in summoning one spirit: Elvira, Charles’ beautiful ex-wife. Ruth, who had already expressed her jealousy and discomfort with Elvira’s physical beauty and lasting hold on Charles’ heart, grows more concerned for her husband as he talks to the ghost of a woman only he can see. Leah Nashel ’20 embodies the character of Elvira perfectly, with a confident poise in the way she carries herself, her mannerisms and her speech.

Marek Haar’s ’20 directorial talent takes shape in these scenes as the actor’s play up the physical comedy. In one scene, when Ruth has finally acknowledged the ghost Elvira’s (Leah Nashel ’20) presence, she spends several minutes yelling at a chair she believes her rival to be sitting in. Everybody but Ruth is clued in to the fact that Elvira has actually been dancing around the room the whole time, making Ruth look like a fool. And because only Charles can hear Elviria speak, he must translate for Ruth, though he often rephrases her words just a touch nicer. The audience is again clued in on the personal joke with Charles.

The lighting design helps convey the eerie tone during scenes like Arcati’s seances. The stage grows darker and the shadows reflected against blue light on the back wall of the stage form intricate patterns.

The dialogue was quick and witty, punctuated by some more sincere moments, like Ruth’s genuine worry for her husband’s sanity. Though the acting in these scenes was mature and strong, it was during the comedic moments that the cast shone brightest. Edith (Tova Weinberger ’18), the Condomine family’s maid, spends much of the play hurrying around the set, knocking things over and wreaking havoc wherever she goes.

The pencil mustaches worn by Charles and Dr. Bradman keep the audience firmly planted in early 20th century England, though the accents sometimes drop off or become muddled. The exception is Harrington’s Mrs. Bradman, as Harrington is actually British (her cast biography points that out). While Harrington’s accent is natural and smooth, it doesn’t quite match the accents put on by the other cast members, which are stiffer and sound more like the stuffy Received Pronounciation used by the British ruling class of the time.

The show’s run time is long, at around two and a half hours, but as the play nears its climax, the action builds and all the actors are shouting and taking command of the entire stage as the plot builds to the twist ending. In an impressive use of special effects, the play ends with a pair of ghosts destroying the set. Books fly off shelves, tables and couches tumble over and the tune which has been a guiding element in the play, “Always,” by Irving Berlin begins to spin on the record player.

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