It is a temperately brisk night on the terrace of Los Angeles’ eminent Music Center betwixt The Ahmanson Theatre and The Mark Taper Forum. Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy saunter arm in arm, towards The Mark Taper but if they are not simply taking an invigorating jaunt around the plaza before circling back in the direction of the theatre from whence they came, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! For tonight…tonight is but the first and only opening night of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles starring Angela Lansbury and Charles Edwards!
In grand tradition of nearly any and all opening Angeleno evenings, there is a red carpet (right next to the rather modest little press Will Call table of all places) sporting a rather large, roughly five foot tall relief, in proscenium of Angela Lansbury’s big beaming head!– (a photo of course, not her actual head swollen five feet tall for the evening’s festivities). In front of it, in the couple of moments I have lingered there in order to lie in wait for my editor, Bryan Cranston can be witnessed giving a short interview, and later, Jesse Tyler Ferguson. John Larroquette will subsequently be spotted at the bar and Wendie Malick in the ladies room—looking fabulous as ever even in the most mundane and maintenance-preserving of tasks; washing her hands. Also rumored to be in attendance, either Will from Will and Grace and/or Greg from Dharma and Greg—but it’s hard to tell from a distance when the source in confidence has only seen the actor’s profile to the back of his head… Yes, this is just how popular this evening will prove to be!
Upon entering the theatre, it is packed to the gills! The auditorium, slightly dim and dramatic, is separated from the stage by a black scrim sporting a slide of what looks like the very first cover page of the play itself. Its colorless pall is deliciously daunting.
During the course of the performance, and between scene changes, orchestral dance music will sound, as if from a quaint, old Victrola, and blurbs about what might be transpiring between scenes will appear upon the scrim, in a manner exactly reminiscent of a silent film!
Our tale opens like any other. Boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy loses girl to premature death but dryly admits to feeling badly about not feeling all that badly about it to a new girl he’s met and married since but not yet lost! New girl feigns non-envy at the late ectoplasmic enchantress of whom her husband can only meticulous muse, “I remember her physical attractiveness which was tremendous and her spiritual integrity which was nil.” (Uh-oh.) Combine all this with a medium’s visit that self same night and you’ve got a potential cat fight in the making amidst one already perished “feline” and one very much alive, but neither with nine lives (or deaths) to spare betwixt the two of them!
The entire story transpires in the living room of Charles and Ruth Condomine played like deliciously dry dogged drinks in the form of Martinis by the dashingly debonair Charles Edwards and the deliciously discerning Charlotte Parry!
Enter Angela Lansbury to capacious clapping—and looming laughter—(Claphter? Is that a word?)—as the eccentrically graceful, yet loping Madame Arcati. Having experienced her first trance at the age of four and ectoplasmic manifestation at 5 ½ Arcati is a blithe enough force herself to be reckoned with! With the assistance of a perpetually influenza-ridden, child-phantom “Daphne” she is ostensibly able to beckon whichever spirit or spirits are most subconsciously summoned by all séance-subordinates. Arcati will fall into two trances during the course of the play. Preparation for such meditative states is a vision to behold as Lansbury will invariably begin jerking and lurching in rhythmically non-rhythmic undulations the likes of which indicate there is gracefulness hidden somewhere in her poise; but only after sifting/sitting through jig-like machinations all too reminiscent of C3PO reenacting the Bangles’ Walk like an Egyptian and/or Mr./Mrs. Roboto delighting in the two-step—the audience’s laughter and applause our “Domo Arigato”. Lansbury’s hypnotic dance alone is worth the price of admission!
Charles’ deceased wife Elvira (pronounced El-vera), and portrayed by a plucky, persevering Jemima Rooper, will invariably waft through the pale, billowing curtains via the voluminous French doors, stage left, her white flowing robe and equally ivory extensions rendering her more ethereally vaporous than any previously envisaged Elvira hence or since. (Seriously, it’s the most magical and otherworldly costume design for this character I have ever had the good fortune to behold!)
Elvira will make no bones (even though that is all her earthly existence currently consists of) about the fact that “That awful child with the cold came and told me you wanted to see me,” her ire, in part, fueled by an interruption of a game of Backgammon with Genghis Kahn!
Ruth will eventually blame a “cheese thing” she and Charles shared for lunch on his perceived perception of his past precious-now-paramour. “Why should a ‘cheese thing’ for lunch make me see my dead wife after dinner?” Charles can only proclaim!
Cheese thing or not, Madame Arcati has inadvertently assisted in rendering Charles an “astral bigamist” and everything from the results to the reactions are a resolved riotous romp to regard! Oh, and those easily spooked, beware. The set may even take on a life of its own at the play’s conclusion. From the additional and apt acting by the likes of Simon Jones as the dynamic Dr. Bradman, Susan Louise O’Connor as the edgy to googley-eyed Edith, and Sandra Shipley as the immoderate Mrs. Bradman, the slick sets by Simon Higlett, spine-chilling lighting by Mark Jonathan, to bodacious associate costume design by Bill Butler and sometimes scary sound by Ben and Max Ringham, Blithe Spirit is sure to deliver; whilst sending a most riveting yet comedic shiver from the base of the spine into the ethereal divine!
Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit runs until January 18th at the Ahmanson Theatre.
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