Some Movie Dearest readers have no doubt learned by now of Reverend’s excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. But have no fear: I am now a priest of the rapidly-growing, international and GLBT-inclusive Reformed Catholic Church, for which I am very happy and grateful.
Speaking of spiritual comedies, I took in the Broadway revival of Noël Coward’s classic Blithe Spirit last weekend while on my current “Excommunication Tour” (very Madonna-esque!) of New York and Connecticut. Director Michael Blakemore — the only director to ever win two Tony Awards in the same year (in 2000 for his direction of Copenhagen and the revival of Kiss Me, Kate) — has given this chestnut a handsome (though not flawless) staging and a dream cast.
Rupert Everett, looking older than when he made an international splash in the 1997 film My Best Friend’s Wedding but no less handsome, stars as Charles Condomine. Charles is married to Ruth (a superb Jayne Atkinson), although he was previously married to Elvira, who died tragically seven years prior.
As the play begins, the Condomines have invited their friends, Dr. & Mrs. Bradman (Simon Jones and the always-welcome Deborah Rush), to their home for dinner and entertainment courtesy of local spiritual medium Madame Arcati.
The role of Arcati is assayed by the fabulous Angela Lansbury, who is as witty, spry and delightful as ever. Having previously won the Tony four times (for Mame, Dear World, the 1974 revival of Gypsy and the original Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd), she was just nominated again for her turn here.
Though Arcati’s credentials and locutions are questionable, she succeeds in conjuring Elvira from beyond the grave. While Elvira is only visible to Charles, she gradually makes her presence known to the initially-unbelieving Ruth. Soon, Charles has not one but two often-wrathful spirits with whom to contend.
The weakest performance in this Blithe Spirit is that of Christine Ebersole as Elvira. While she looks great, is well costumed (by Martin Pakledinaz) and is obviously having fun with the role, Ebersole is unconvincing as a Brit in both style and accent. Too often, the nasal, New Yawk voice she memorably employed for her Tony-winning performance as Little Edie in Grey Gardens slips through.
Another complaint regards the set by Peter J. Davison. It was designed and built at an angle, with a narrow central entrance and exit area that can only be seen by audience members seated dead center. The sight lines are so poor that the Shubert isn’t even selling tickets for the two or three seats at either end of the theater’s mezzanine and balcony rows.
All in all, however, this Blithe Spirit provides a fine, enjoyable night at the theatre, as Coward’s intelligent and funny play has done consistently for the last 65-plus years.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.