The excellent frivolity of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit

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“What does Blithe mean?” many may ask. An easy answer is that it is a sort of devil-may-care attitude, high-spirited and gay. Google defines blithe as happy or joyous, with synonyms such as cheerful, jolly, and gay. The playwright undoubtedly reveled in the word’s ambiguity. Thank goodness there is more than a bit of gaiety there, since the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (the STNJ) in Madison is now presenting a rollicking new production of Noel Coward’s classic, Blithe Spirit.

Most people today have never heard of Noel Coward or of any of his plays unless they are students of theatre or of film. Imagine a combination of Neil Simon, Stephen Sondheim, the Beatles, and Elvis, and you would have an idea of who was Noel Coward. Sir Noel Coward dominated the British and American stage during the first half of the 20th century. Blithe Spirit was written in 1941, and performed during the bombing of London during World War II. It was a tremendous success. The plot involves a famous author who is researching a séance, which occurs a bit too successfully for comfort. As blithely as supernatural occurrences result, we also have a light-hearted murder and an exorcism in the mix.

Blithe Spirit has had a recent Broadway incarnation in 2009 starring Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett, and Christine Ebersole. Under Victoria Mack’s direction for the STNJ, the seven fine actors in the cast offer a witty, racy entertainment, which doesn’t appear dated or haughty in the slightest. With a line such as, “It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit,” how could it not be as fresh as ground pepper or today’s news?

The cast includes Ames Adamson, Brent Harris, Bethany Kay, Kate MacCluggage, Susan Maris, Tina Stafford, and Margot White. All project period wit and sparkle in a uniformly fine ensemble. The beautiful drawing room set created by scenic designer Charles Calvert was spiffy, with lighting by Michael Giannitti, and costumes by Hugh Hanson.
Early in the run, the dialogue seemed a bit rushed, and the stage business a bit broad, but that will have resolved itself by this time. Minor quibbles, indeed, since this masterpiece of farce should not be missed.

If stylish comedy, fun, excellent dialogue, and wit appeal to you, then you owe it to yourself to see Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ.

Blithe Spirit is at the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ on the campus of Drew University, at 30 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ, until September 2. For information, visit .

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