Make no mistake. Michael Blakemore’s brilliant production of Blithe Spirit at the Shubert Theatre is one of the most elegant, funniest and honest representations of the battle of the sexes on Broadway today, refusing to go the route of foul language depending rather on the wit of Noel Coward to get his humorous barbs across.
In the well appointed, pale yellow living room of writer Charles Condomine (a debonair born to wear a tux Rupert Everett) where he resides with his second wife Ruth (an older and seemingly wiser Jayne Atkinson) with their mouse like maid Edith (Susan Louise O’Connor) scurrying about to answer the door to announce their guests Dr. Bradman (Simon Jones) and his wife Mrs. Bradman (Deborah Rush) so that they can all join in a séance held forth by Madame Arcati (Angela Lansbury) who arrives via bicycle looking like some agile exotic owl dressed in gypsy garb you will howl at the shenanigans going on, once Elvira (Christine Ebersole) first wife of Charles has been summoned by Daphne (Madame Arcati’s control – a young child on the other side) and winds up in said well appointed living room where dry martinis are served and only Charles can see and hear her.
It is as Noel Coward wrote an improbable farce. Improbable, maybe. But definitely a situation that results in some very unexpected wall to wall laughs. It is the perfect cast. In a perfectly structured drawing room comedy. Perfect comic timing from all involved especially from Angela Lansbury who when she goes into her trance to summon whomever is there to be summoned goes into some incredibly funny Isadora Duncan like dance that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. With a look, a gesture, a pause she is a total delight. And she does not like being interrupted, thank you. No other actor on Broadway gets repeated, spontaneous and such well-deserved entrance and exit applause.
It is riotous to see the disintegration of the calm and level headed Ruth as she grapples with the reality of having her husband’s first wife sharing their, what used to be peaceful, home. As Elvira, Christine Ebersole, looking lovely in a diaphanous gray chiffon flowing gown (costumes by Martin Pakledinaz) and speaking in some other worldly accent that is neither British nor American but something in between that can be best described as charming is full of gleeful mischief in trying to re-seduce her husband that she hasn’t seen for seven years. Charles befuddled at first begins to enjoy this new development with all its ramifications as will you.
Blithe Spirit is as good a ghost story as you’ll ever see. A champagne cocktail of comic complications that will leave you pleasantly spooked.