REVIEW: 'Blithe Spirit' at Giving Tree is spellbinding fun

Show creates onstage magic and mayhem

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MARION — Things are going bump in the night this month at Giving Tree Theater, as “Blithe Spirit” inhabits the intimate venue through Oct. 30.

Most stages have a ghost light — a single bulb left on when the auditorium is empty. It’s plugged in not only for the safety of those who might wander into the darkness, but also to appease the theater ghosts who are as much as part of dramatic superstition as saying “Break a leg” when wishing actors well.

Giving Tree has a few more ghosts these days, who light up the stage whenever they appear. They are the “blithe spirits” that inhabit the witty repartee and shenanigans of Noel Coward’s 1941 play about an author who gets more than he bargained for when he summons a medium to conduct a seance. He’s just wanting to learn a few tricks of the trade to inform his upcoming novel about a homicidal medium. The seance, instead, summons the spirit of his flirty first wife, the deliciously dead Elvira.

It’s a production sprinkled with special effects that went without a hitch in Thursday’s final dress rehearsal, giving the action delightful little punches and the invited audience plenty of ooh-aah fun. Think “Beetlejuice” meets “Bewitched.”

The show is talky, and a little slow in the beginning, but the dialogue between novelist Charles Condomine (Richie Akers) and his second, very much alive wife, Ruth (Kristin Poling), sets the stage for the ensuing madness and mayhem. Their young maid, Edith (Bre Kenney), provides the comic relief as she scurries about her duties.

Invited guests Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Kerry Patrick and Tamsin McAtee) arrive for the evening’s festivities, but it’s Madame Arcati (Marty Norton) who blows in like a fresh breeze, casting her wacky spell over the room.

Norton is a pro at physical comedy, with boundless energy. Her preparations for her trance are hilarious as she honks and squawks through her ritual dance, before collapsing in a heap and missing all the fun.

The next breeze that blows through brings a chill, as the ghostly Elvira (Claire Winkleblack) arrives and immediately begins toying with her hapless husband. He’s the only person who can see and hear her, which at first, leaves him bewitched, bothered and bewildered. The cat-and-mouse game of their marriage picks right back up, however, threatening the life of his second marriage.

All this gives way to devilish doings, temper tantrums, floating objects, mysterious music, murderous schemes and magical meltdowns.

Director Jay Burken has orchestrated a merry romp, accented by a smashing set design and costumes as colorful as the characters.

My crystal ball predicts audiences are in for some enchanted evenings.

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