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After a pleasant summer visiting family and friends in the generally cooler northeast regions of New York and New England, and despite the lingering summer heat and humidity of the Lone Star State, it was still delightful last weekend to join friends here for a return to the many charms of Conroe, Texas. Of course that would begin with some fine dining at Joe’s Italian Restaurant (I heartily recommend the Shrimp Palermo), and then it was on to the always welcoming arms of the Crighton Theatre. A friendly usher named Pat would show us to our seats, and when I commented on the beautifully enameled hummingbird necklace she wore, she proudly explained it was custom made for her by a cousin’s granddaughter. The evening’s offering from the Stage Right Players would be Noel Coward’s ghostly 1941 comedy classic, BLITHE SPIRIT. Having come a bit early we were able to view some of the show-related projections that were quietly screened on stage as the audience arrived. Then lovely director, Bonnie Hewett, took to the stage to give an enthusiastic introduction in which she appropriately reminded the audience that Stage Right is very much a community effort with about “five volunteers behind the scenes for every one performer on the stage.” She went on to say that new volunteers are always welcome.
The merry substance of this comic plot revolves around an English author and socialite, Charles Condomine (suavely portrayed by Ralph Biancalana), who has a clever research idea to springboard his next novel by inviting a zany clairvoyant psychic named Madame Arcati (a humorous portrayal from Maria O. Sirgo) to conduct a séance in his elegant home. (The charming Victorian set design of Ms. Hewett looks as though it may have borrowed nicely from the local antique stores that border the theater).
Those in attendance for this mysterious dinner party and comical journey into the occult include Charles’ wife, Ruth (a coolly elegant performance from Megan Nix), along with the couples’ curious friends, Doctor & Mrs. Bradman (Reid Self & Leona Hoegsberg). Adding to the mayhem is the Condomine’s ditzy housemaid, Edith (Michel Brown Stevens), who ironically reminds one of the flighty body language of yet another Edith—Edith Bunker of “All in the Family”—as she scurries dutifully in and out trying to attain a bit of elusive elegance as directed by her skeptical employers.
The real fun begins when the often uproarious séance results in the manifestation of the ghost of Charles’ first wife, Elvira (a whimsical and fey performance from Carolyn Corsano Wong) who had died seven years earlier. Adding to the merriment is the fact that only Charles can see and hear the ghost. Chaos will of course ensue. The period costumes of Marissa Mascolo nicely complement the scenic design, and there must have been some clever work from Master Carpenter, Jonathan Van Eaton, because before the night is over the set literally begins to take on a spooky life of its own. No wonder Mr. Coward subtitled his original book for the piece, “An Improbable Farce in Three Acts.”
If there are drawbacks here, I would forewarn audiences that the piece is very long. It was closing in on 11 p.m. when the final bows were taken, and it was the first time I recall not one, but two freight trains passing audibly in the night not far from the theater during the performance.
“The playgoer, having seen a performance and turning now to the book, may discover that in the acting version some lines, and in certain cases short scenes, are missing. The explanation is simple: those lines were eliminated on the stage because the play ran far beyond the usual time allotted to a Broadway production and because the necessity of bringing the curtain down at a reasonable and convenient hour seemed essential to the producer.” [Editorial Note for the original edition]
In the opinion of this critic, additional editing would have been useful here, and it would also be helpful if the printed program indicated the run of the scenes and the timing of the much-needed intermission for those who find three hours a long time to sit.
BLITHE SPIRIT continues through September 18th, 2016 with Friday & Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., all at the beautiful Crighton Theatre, 234 N. Main St. in Conroe, Texas. For tickets ($15-$20) and information, call 936-441-7469 or visit the website at www.stage-right.org
The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com. E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.