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Blithe Spirit

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There's really nothing blithe about Blithe Spirit. Noel Coward's deceptively lightweight 1941 classic commands some serious stagecraft while tossing comedic barbs about marital relationships, British class restrictions and pop culture, not to mention the biggies: love and death. Nevertheless, it's a tempting bit of trouble for many a community theater, who approach it with varying degrees of success. Not surprisingly, the Theatre Factory's production is uneven, but still funny and charming.

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener for me was Americus Rocco in the central role as Charles, a remarried widower whose first wife returns after a séance that he didn't take seriously until it was too late. So credibly thuggish in dramatic roles in professional theaters around town, Rocco here blissfully morphs into the urbanely bored successful author dealing with an expected bout of bigamy, raising his eyebrow instead of his voice. He exploits the superficialities of the character -- and, indeed, Charles is nothing but a bundle of superficialities -- while easing out the charm.

The other high point of the Factory production is the set, designed and constructed (with Evan Hauth) by artistic director Scott P. Calhoon. The green-gold color scheme beautifully evokes both the period and the upper-crust country setting. Alas, similar attention has not been lavished on the costumes. Indeed, there seems to have been a conspiracy to dress Charles' second wife, Ruth (played with a valiantly stiff upper lip by Renee Ruzzi-Kern) as un-period, un-uppercrust and unattractively as possible for most of the play. Cindy Swanson fares far better in the title role, appropriately glissome if not so subtle in her mischievousness.

Blithe Spirit offers some jewels of character roles, but some of the facets were lost. Though obviously young for the maid's part as written, Sarah Elizabeth Stover rises to the occasion with a fresh innocence and clumsy-puppyish charm. There is so much to mine, and so much scenery to chew, as the mixed-up medium, Madame Arcati, that Janette E. Schafer cannot go far wrong, though she doesn't go far enough. Michael J. Byrne IV is adequately resolute as the socialite doctor, and Monica Filippone takes his ditzy wife to the nth degree.

But this is not to fault the company's ambition. Even with such minor problems, Blithe Spirit is a joy of language at play, a celebration of wit and culture (both high and low) that manages the occasional transcendent moment.

 

Blithe Spirit continues through March 2. The Theatre Factory, Trafford. 412-374-9200 or www.thetheatrefactory.com

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