Blithe Spirit

Noel Coward's ghostly parlor game has comfortably weathered a half-century and then some. In the final summer offering by the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, director Dylan Baker has neatly accented the playwright's meter and rhythm, marred only by some bluntly intrusive musical motifs.

With:
Cast: Alice Saltzman (Edith), Becky Ann Baker (Ruth), Paul Mullins (Charles Condomine), Marcus Giamatti (Dr. Bradman), Amy Hohn (Mrs. Bradman), Peggy Pope (Madame Arcati), Kathryn Meisle (Elvira).

Noel Coward’s ghostly parlor game has comfortably weathered a half-century and then some. In the final summer offering by the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, director Dylan Baker has neatly accented the playwright’s meter and rhythm, marred only by some bluntly intrusive musical motifs. The cast merrily mixes martinis and mirth with stylish aplomb.

When a dotty medium manages to materialize a novelist’s prankish ex-wife at a seance, the stage is set for a brittle, disarming comedy, and one needs no further exposition, nor can expect much plot development. It’s all in the execution, and Baker lets his actors find the fluid pattern of the text and target the crisp acidity of the humor with pointed marksmanship.

Paul Mullins acts author Condomine with a firm grip on worldly sophistication and weariness, and nicely balances his poise and panic. Kathryn Meisle, as the sexy manifestation, adds a willowy and luminous touch, investing her barbs with an alluring bitchiness. Becky Ann Baker gives the carping second wife a convincing blend of frustration and bemused concern.

As the fussy and chatty medium, Peggy Pope falls a tad short of Madame Arcati’s extravagant nature. While eccentric enough, she adds a spirited human touch, but might have harnessed a few more laughs with one zany step forward.

Coward always provided his domestics with plum little parts, from “Private Lives” to “Present Laughter.” Here the housemaid Edith is a scurrying gazelle whom the Condomines make every effort to slow down. Alice Saltzman takes the role and literally runs with it, carrying clattering tea trays with wide-eyed fright and scampering in horror from supernatural happenings, with great comic effect.

Crashing into the genteel spirit of the piece are some Berlin tunes in arrangements that might have been fashioned by Nelson Riddle or Billy May in the ’50s. Where are those lovely Coward melodies?

The costumes and sets by Michael Vaughn Sims are stylishly sensible and airy, with billowy curtains at the French windows and billowy gowns for the ghosts.

Blithe Spirit

Community Theater, Morristown, N.J.; 500 seats; $35 top

Production: A New Jersey Shakespeare Festival presentation of a play in three acts by Noel Coward. Directed by Dylan Baker.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Michael Vaughn Sims; lighting, Michael Giannitti; sound, Johanna Doty; stage manager, Shannon Rhodes. Artistic director, Bonnie J. Monte. Opened Aug. 8, 1997. Running time: 2 HOURS, 33 MIN.

Cast: Cast: Alice Saltzman (Edith), Becky Ann Baker (Ruth), Paul Mullins (Charles Condomine), Marcus Giamatti (Dr. Bradman), Amy Hohn (Mrs. Bradman), Peggy Pope (Madame Arcati), Kathryn Meisle (Elvira).

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