The CSU Theatre Department kicks off its 2021-22 season with Blithe Spirit, directed by Russ Borski.
On a rather dreary and windy Sunday afternoon this past week, a mid-sized audience of people found themselves gathered in the Outcalt Theatre of Cleveland Playhouse, myself included. This October day was perfect for the ghostly comedy of “Blithe Spirit.”
The production “Blithe Spirit” is put on by the Cleveland State University Theatre Department. Originally set to take place as virtual production last season, it was canceled due to cast health and safety concerns. However, despite difficulties, the show always goes on, and here we are with “Blithe Spirit” as the start to CSU’s in-person theatre season this year.
Once out of the cold and rain, seating was quite smooth, despite added COVID precautions, including requiring vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Upon showing my ID and vaccination card to an usher and scanning my ticket, I was all set to pick my seat.
The show itself, a play in two acts, was written by Noel Coward and originally set in 1930s England. Faculty member and director Russ Borski adapted the show to take on a modern-day perspective, setting it instead in present-day Long Island. This was emphasized by the characters’ accents and contemporary music and references throughout the show. “A whimsical exploration of modern love,” as described in the program.
The lights come up on a stately living room in an upper-class household. Introducing us to our first characters in this small cast, we see the household’s maid, Edith- with Tessa Skovira cast in the role, running about. Skovira did an excellent job of portraying the rather comedic, frantic state that Edith always seems to be in.
Joining her in preparing for what promises to be a very entertaining evening are Charles Condomine and his wife Ruth, played by Jaren Hodgson and Corinne Howry. Hodgson and Howry balance each other out well. In typical husband-wife fashion, they always seemed to be at each others’ throats, with one spouse always trying to talk some sense into the other.
The doorbell rings and the Condomines are joined by Mr. and Mrs. Bradman- played by Gabe Jones and Emily Anderson. Jones and Anderson prove to be just as much of a pair as Hodgson and Howry. The dynamic back and forth of these two couples kept the energy of the show constant throughout.
They are soon joined by the eccentric Madame Arcati, a spiritual medium portrayed by Em Davis, who delivered a determined performance and nailed the whimsical and comedic character.
During a séance, the skeptical characters experience the paranormal, and act one ends with the introduction of our final character, the ghost of Mr. Condomine’s first wife, Elvira, portrayed by Claudia Cromly. Determined to win back her husband even as a ghost, Elvira brings a feisty and flirty personality to the show.
Act two continued to keep up the energy, with Elvira, visible only to Charles, keeping tension in the household up. In a plot to have him join her in the spirit world, she starts plotting to kill Charles. In the process, she unintentionally ends up taking out Ruth instead, leaving Charles with not just one ghost wife, but two.
Ruth and Elvira team up as spirits, keeping the dynamic fresh as the show nears its end. Charles is rejoined by Madame Arcati to send them both away, with questionable success. This sequence is one of the funniest in the show, and the ending does not disappoint.
With Madame Arcati’s hurried departure, the audience is left to wonder if Charles is to be forever haunted by the ghosts of his somewhat mischievous wives who have turned against him. The set comes to life, and we see chandeliers swinging on their own and paintings moving on the walls. Charles shouts into the space as the room dissolves into a chaos of its own accord.
If you haven’t seen the show yet, there are just a few more chances left to do so. The production closes on October 31st. Tickets are on sale on the Playhouse Square Website.
For more information about Theatre at Cleveland State University, please visit their webpage.