Debi Durst (back) as Madame Arcati and Nicole Martin (front) as Elvira.
Debi Durst (back) as Madame Arcati and Nicole Martin (front) as Elvira.

Bay Area Theater coverage, news, reviewsPalo Alto Players have announced it will conclude the 2010-2011 season with Noel Coward’s critically acclaimed and award-winning comedy Blithe Spirit.

Good vibrations abound in Coward’s supernaturally delicious comedy of two wives and a happy medium. When novelist Charles Condomine and his current wife Ruth invite a psychic into their home in order to gather material on the spirit world for his new book, Madame Arcati performs a séance with no discernible results to anyone–with one exception. Suddenly, Charles finds himself caught between wives, one live and one late… but not late enough.

Noel Coward, knighted in 1969 and elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, was an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit, flamboyance, and what Time Magazine called “a sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose and poise.” In his youth, Coward attended a dance academy making his professional stage début at the age of eleven. It was in his young adulthood that he was introduced to English “high society,” in which most of his plays would later be set. Coward achieved enduring success as a playwright, publishing more than 50 plays in his lifetime. He composed hundreds of songs, in addition to well over a dozen musical theatre works, poetry, several volumes of short stories, the novel Pomp and Circumstance, and a three-volume autobiography. Coward’s stage and film acting and directing career spanned six decades and in 1970 he received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement for his multiple and immortal contributions to the theatre.

Blithe Spirit is a comic play which takes its title from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “To a Skylark.” Coward wrote the play in 1941 during a holiday that he took with actress Joyce Carey to the coast of Wales. He wrote it straight through from beginning to end. In his autobiography Coward claimed he wrote the play in five days.

The play was first seen on the West End in London in 1941 and set a new long-run record for non-musical British plays of 1,997 performances. Arriving on Broadway later that year, the show ran for 657 performances. In 1945, Coward adapted the play for film, starring Rex Harrison. It was also adapted for television in the 1950s and 1960s and for radio. The play enjoyed several West End and Broadway revivals in the 1970s and 1980s. Recently it was revived in London in 2004. It’s most recent Broadway revival was in 2009 with Rupert Everett as Charles, Christine Ebersole as Elvira, and Tony Award winning actress Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati.

Palo Alto Players’ production of Blithe Spirit is the first regional production since the revival and it brings this timeless comedy to life with an all new cast and amazing local talent. Cornelia Burdick Thompson makes her directing debut with Palo Alto Players. When asked what drew her to Coward’s comedy, Burdick says, “I love Coward’s writing, and I have a secret wish that the story could really happen!”

The Palo Alto Players cast of Blithe Spirit is as follows:

  • Edith Breigh Zack (Mountain View)
  • Ruth Freya Shipley (Santa Cruz)
  • Charles Michael Sally (Oakland)
  • Dr. Bradman Steve Schwartz (San Francisco)
  • Mrs. Bradman Leslie Newport (San Jose)
  • Madame Arcati Debi Durst (San Francisco)
  • Elvira Nicole Martin (San Mateo)

Technical director, production manager, and scenic designer Patrick Klein will be working in cooperation with resident costumer Mary Cravens and prop mistress Pat Tyler to bring this timeless comedy to life at the Lucie Stern Theater. Blithe Spirit will also feature Jocelyn Squires as the lighting designer, Jeff Grafton as stage manager for the production, and George Mauro as sound designer.

Blithe Spirit

by Palo Alto Players

June 11 through June 26, 2011. Paid preview on Friday, June 10, 2011.

The curtain lifts at 8:00pm Thursday through Saturday and 2:30pm on Sundays.

Ticket prices are $21 for the Friday preview performance; $30 for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees; and $32 for Opening Saturday Gala on June 11, 2011. Following the opening night performance, the audience is invited to join the cast and crew for a gala reception with complimentary wine and desserts. Students and seniors receive a $4 discount for Thursday and Sunday performances. Special discounts of 20-25% for groups of 12 or more are also available.

Photo credit: Joyce Goldschmid Photography.

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