Reviewed by Leonard Jacobs
Presented by The Pearl Theatre Company, 80 St. Mark's Place, NYC, Aug. 31-Oct. 15.
With a quartet of martinis its first, most enduring image, the Pearl Theatre Company's revival of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" is intoxicating. Staged by Stephen Hollis with a fondness for jocularity that wouldn't make even the harshest Coward critic cower, the Pearl's 17th season has opened with a winner.
Coward critics also needn't cavil over the cuts made to the rich, three-act script. In fact, by keeping the evening to a brisk two hours and 45 minutes, one can delight more fully in the loopy velocity of the action. Perhaps such speed contributed to the actors' tentativeness early in the play, but all is forgiven as the play progresses.
Best of all, one needn't recall the last Broadway "Blithe Spirit" of 13 years ago, starring Judith Ivey, Richard Chamberlain, Blythe Danner, and Geraldine Page (in her final performance), to illustrate what a fine play this is. Instead, let's celebrate the talents of the Pearl's Resident Acting Company, beginning with Joanne Camp as a wonderfully wry Ruth, Hope Chernov as a knockout Elvira, and Doug Stender as Charles, a man ever-weirded by the supernaturality of his life. In the minor roles of Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, Dominic Cuskern and Glynis Bell mine mirth from Coward's dialogue in astonishing ways, as does Elizabeth Ureneck as Edith, the frenetic maid.
Then there's Delphi Harrington's Madame Arcati. In a performance channeling Katharine Hepburn, Maggie Smith, and Margaret Rutherford (who originated the role), Harrington's performance is a typhoon of physical and vocal affectations—and utterly on target. Sweeping in and out of her scenes with gusty gusto, I can't remember a stage faint quite as on a dime as hers. One note: Madame Arcati should always speak in her lower register.
The nifty scenic design (by Harry Feiner), costumes (by Leslie Yarmo), and lighting (by Stephen Petrilli) are not only modernistic, but smartly functional, and thus delightful.