Blithe Spirit

During the darkest days of the German blitzkrieg on Britain, Noel Coward wrote his most lighthearted and fanciful play, Blithe Spirit, much to the delight of shell-shocked theatregoers, including Winston Churchill, who counted it his favorite play.

Now in the midst of what our asterisk president calls "the perpetual war on terrorism," take this witty, urbane comedy, cast the Denver Center's finest comedians, and what you have, again, is an utterly delightful diversion from the relentless daily assaults on our rights, our pocketbooks, our environment, and our good sense.

Set in an English manor in the summer of 1939, the story revolves around Charles Condomine, a run-of-the-mill novelist who engages a local medium to study her techniques for his latest book.

Photo of Jamie Horton as Charles and Jacqueline Antaramian as Elvira
Jamie Horton as Charles and
Jacqueline Antaramian as Elvira
Photo: Terry Shapiro
In the mold of Coward himself, Jamie Horton as Charles is sophisticated, measured, and, underneath it all, zany. When the séance goes awry, Horton's heartfelt sincerity, in the face of preposterous circumstances, sets up a series of ridiculous encounters with both his deceased and current wife.

Photo of Annette Helde as Ruth
Annette Helde as Ruth
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Annette Helde, bless her, as Ruth, Charles' current wife, her effectiveness bolstered by her initially bright, easy-going, liberal characterization, plays the straight lady to Horton's cockamamie ranting, her increasingly unyielding and creeping dark posture forcing him into conniptions.

Photo of Jamie Horton as Charles and Jacqueline Antaramian as Elvira
Jamie Horton as Charles
and Jacqueline Antaramian
as Elvira. Photo: Terry Shapiro

Elvira, Charles' deceased spouse, is brought back from the dead by Jacqueline Antaramian, who, in her inimitable and unassuming dead-pan manner, wreaks havoc on Charles and Ruth's relationship, finally altering the balance of power with a lethal brand of monkey-wrench roulette.

Photo of Kathleen Brady as Madame Arcati
Kathleen Brady as Madame
Arcati. Photo: Terry Shapiro
Once again in a role sent from heaven, Kathleen Brady plays Madame Arcati, an aspiring country spiritualist, more book-learned than experienced. Brady's rustic table-rapper puts on a show for the Condomine's and their guests, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, going about her work with a matter-of-fact zest, talking to the unseen as if to her cat, saving the histrionics for the climactic moment.

Robin Mosely and Randy Moore are the delightful good-cop, bad-cop to the proceedings: Ditzy and curious, Mosely's Mrs. Bradman encourages Madame Arcati's esoteric business, while Moore's reserved, rational Doctor sniggers behind their backs with his hosts -- in all, allowing the audience to buy in at whatever level they wish.

Flitting in and out of nearly every scene, injecting imbalance, disorder, and interruption is Edith, the Condomine's maid. Elizabeth Rainer, at her quirky best, manages to mix kooky and spooky, a clever feat, and one which, ultimately, provides a key to the resolution of this war of the worlds.

Photo of Jacqueline Antaramian as Elvira and Kathleen Brady as Madame Arcati
Jacqueline Antaramian as Elvira
and Kathleen Brady as Madame Arcati
Photo: Terry Shapiro
The trust between the close-knit ensembles is palpable, and allows them to push the limits of believability without faltering, delivering the full absurdity of Coward's situational comedy. Director Nagle Jackson's pace and detail is so aligned with the writing, it's transparent.

As unlikely as it seems, Coward wedded magical realism with English humor before anyone knew what to call it. The Denver Center's utterly charming Blithe Spirit runs through April 24th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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