Couples in a second marriage may feel haunted by the memory of their prior relationships—worries over how you compare to your spouse’s former love, or whether your spouse still harbors feelings for their ex. Noël Coward makes those fears manifest literally in his 1941 play “Blithe Spirit,” a surprisingly lighthearted comedy about an ex-wife who comes back to haunt her remarried husband.
Charles Condomine (Bruce Randolph Nelson) is a writer who decides to hold a séance in his house, in the hopes that it’ll provide useful research material for a novel he’s working on. He’s convinced that the eccentric Madame Arcati (Nancy Robinette) is a complete fraud, but the séance brings the ghost of his first wife, Elvira (Beth Hylton), back—and only Charles can see her, much to the chagrin of his second wife, Ruth (Megan Anderson)*. The play could potentially be too dark, what with all the death and jealousy and, later, murder, but as the name implies, Coward keeps the mood witty and cheerful, thanks to the characters, who are ridiculous without feeling like caricatures.
Robinette best flirts with this line of humor and caricature with her portrayal of the delightfully batty Madame Arcati. The medium, who writes children’s books and biographies of minor royals in her spare time, chatters happily about communicating with a long-dead child and giggles with pure delight when she finds out she has materialized a ghost. She brightens up the stage, particularly in the second act, when the members of the supernatural love triangle begin to reveal their uglier sides.
By the end of the play, Charles is the only member of the love triangle who sort of comes out on top, though by this point, the three have all proven to be so unpleasant that it’s difficult to feel sorry for any of them. Elvira, in particular, takes gleeful pleasure in scaring the maid, Edith (Julia Brandeberry), and mocking Ruth, and her relentless flirting with Charles, as well as her references to the afterlife—she mentions playing mahjong with Genghis Khan—kept the audience tittering.
This is Everyman’s last production of its 24th season, and it makes sense that the company would choose “Blithe Spirit” to close out: The script lets Everyman show off its technical bells and whistles—Hylton levitates, books fly off the shelves, pictures fall off the walls, and doors bang open—and, while it’s probably light enough not to stick with the audience long after the show, it’s funny enough to guarantee that the audience will leave Everyman on a happy note for the summer.
*In a previous version of this story, the second wife was mistakenly referred to as Edith, played by Julia Brandeberry. The director's last name was also spelled incorrectly as "Lanciel." City Paper regrets the errors.