"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Monday, August 22, 2011

Theater Week: Blithe Spirit

Coward, Noel. Blithe Spirit in Three Plays. New York: Vintage International. 102 pages (for just Blithe Spirit).

Let's start off the week with one of the comedies, though it was the third play I saw this weekend: Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward.  Since I will be focusing on comparisons between reading the plays and seeing them, my posts this week won't follow the normal structure of my book reviews.

In my copy of Blithe Spirit, the play is referred to as an "improbable farce," which is a fairly apt description. A novelist (Charles) and his wife (Ruth) invite a medium to preform a seance for themselves and some guests, as research for Charles's new book. The medium ends up summoning the ghost of Charles's first wife (Elvira). As Charles is the only one who can see her, hijinks not surprisingly ensue. Noel Coward's strength is certainly his dialogue ("Surely even a protoplasmic manifestation has the right to expect a little of the milk of human kindness."), which certainly comes across in reading the play, as of course does the general ridiculousness of the plot. None of the three main characters is close to perfect, but each of them thinks they are perfectly in the right.

When reading the play, I assumed that the humor would come almost entirely from the dialogue. What I discovered from actually seeing the play were all of the possibilities for physical humor. The majority of it comes from Madame Arcati (the medium) and Elvira.  The production at APT took full advantage of these possibilities, with Madame Arcati's seances played to their fullest possible extents. And Elvira took full advantage of being unseen to flop all over the furniture and play tricks on people, such as watching people talk to thin air where they think she's standing. And that was one of the most impressive things of the whole show: the other characters' ability to not see her. They weren't ignoring her, that would have been obvious. They simply weren't seeing her.

The show also had one of those joys of live theater: ad-libbing. The main stage (Up-the-Hill) theater at APT is outdoors in a beautiful natural amphitheater. This means that the outside world can intrude on the play. During this performance, there was a particularly loud and annoying plane that seemed to be circling overhead. Charles told his doctor that he was planning on going into town, to which the doctor replied "I hope not by plane." It got one of the biggest laughs of the afternoon.  It's moments like that, creating that connection between the audience and the actors, that is truly the biggest difference between reading a play and seeing it live.

If you are interested in learning more about APT, check out their website: http://americanplayers.org/

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