SALT LAKE CITY — If you’re looking to listen to Americans shout at each other in posh British accents for three hours, Blithe Spirit is the show for you. The play is a tricky combination of wonderful talent and excessive dialogue. While Westminster College has an impressive talent base in the theatre department, even Westminster College couldn’t save this rambling Noel Coward script.
But first, the good news. Director Melanie Nelson selected the perfect cast, with every actor an excellent choice for the part. The whole cast had an electric energy together, a chemistry that would be more typical of a cast that’s been touring for months together instead of rehearsing for a few weeks. Daisy Sherman and Sierra DuCharme-Hansen play the current and late wives of Charles Condomine, played by Tyler Palo. The three of them have excellent dynamic and as the alliances shift among the characters, these actors navigate the changes beautifully. Viviane Turman played the exciting medium Madame Arcati, who bursts onto the scene in an explosion of colorful fabrics and tales of premonitions. Madame Arcati’s effusive excitement and sweeping gestures and flowing costume was a stark contrast with the polished British vibe of the rest of the cast. Turman sold the part of eccentric psychic beautifully, which is why I was so disappointed when she spent the rest of the show dressed like a librarian at a mid-century girls’ boarding school.
The supporting characters were just as delightful. Edith the maid, played by Katelyn Limber, was charming and adorable, and though she didn’t spend much time on stage and had very few lines, I always looked forward to each of Limber’s appearances. Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (played by Tage Gould and Briony Denker, respectively) had believable interactions as a married couple, though (like Limber), they didn’t have much stage time. On of my favorite little details of the whole play was Gould’s eyebrows; I didn’t know that eyebrows could be so comedic.
The one glaring problem with this play is the script. The lumbering, redundant, rambling script. Blithe Spirit was written in a time when dense dialogue was all the rage, and it shows in this play. Nearly three hours long, Blithe Spirit is at least twice as long as it needs to be. If the script had been cut down and played more like a farce, it would have been on par with Woody Allen’s greatest hits. Most of the dialogue is argument, and like a real-life argument, people end up saying the same things over and over using different words. There were plenty of very funny lines and the audience laughed freely, it was just the lines in between that were too numerous. There’s too much time to settle down and get comfortable between the laughs.
While the cast did indeed do excellent work, the characters seemed compressed under the weight of so much dialogue. The quirky story line and the silly characters would be very well suited for a side-splitting comedy, but—paradoxically—with so much talking, there wasn’t enough room for characterization. There was no comedic timing because every line came right at the heels of the one before it. Yet, there wasn’t time to go any slower. (Three hours is quite long enough.) Because of this most of the characters seemed rather normal, only slightly more theatrical than people anyone could meet in real life. The exception was of course Madame Arcati, but even her character would have benefit from having enough time to be still for a moment. Despite the hundreds of redundant words that cascade down over the audience, if you don’t pay extremely close attention you’ll miss the solving of the mystery.
All things considered, it was an entertaining show that would be most appreciated by people who enjoy good repartee.