So it is that I move into my new role of what I like to think Max Beerbohm might have been forced into should he find himself dropped into this time that marks not only the comfortable end of the world as we knew it, but the vanishing of the written word, at least on paper, and sally forth into the theater with a critical eye.
Last night I attended the revival of BLITHE SPIRIT, Noel Coward's airy and (one must think) not too hard-worked-over sprint into the comedy of the hereafter, wherein a dashing Brit in his country manse, which doubtless was originally played by Sir Noel himself, played here by the handsome Rupert Everett, who has been funnier, as Charles, (what else would Coward have called him?) brings in a local, eccentric(to put it mildly)medium, who conjures up his dead first wife, to the consternation of his second. The medium, Madame Arcadi, to the delight and occasional roars of the audience, is played past the hilt by Angela Lansbury, who, beaded and laden with frou-frou misses not one do-able comic gesture, including a woo-woo wackadoo dance of her own invention to call up the Beyond. Angela Lansbury herself is the magic of the play, and the audience cannot get enough of her, proof as she is, may wonders never cease, that not all the Good die young. She does keep the thing alive, as well as the audience.
Christine Ebersole is appropriately radiant as the dead Elvira, and sings from offstage in her lovely voice a number of Coward songs during scene changes. The odd thing is Irving Berlin's 'Always' the record that is played throughout the show, considering that so many of Coward's songs, especially 'I'll See you Again' would have done just as well, and he could have paid himself the royalties. Just as, could Arcadi have conjured him, he doubtless would have cut some of the laborious second act. Jayne Atkinson does what I assume is her best in the thankless role of the present(for a while, anyway) second wife, and Susan Louise O'Connor skitters comically across the stage at half mast as the maid.
Simon Jones, my neighbor in real-life, is handsomely reassuring as the doctor, but himself doubted the veracity of the set as an English country living room, what with the furniture facing AWAY from the fire. He showed me an exercise tape that Angela made some
years ago("hardly Jane Fonda" he noted) that will be put out on DVD the end of the month, to help keep in shape for a longer life. I would urge everyone of a certain age, or even hoping to get there, to check it out. There is no arguing with a spirit that stays blithe on either side of that curtain.