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Blithe Spirit conjures up macabre mischief

Published on March 06, 2024

Blithe Spirit conjures up macabre mischief

Eastern’s Department of Communication, Film and Theatre and its Drama Society hypnotized audiences with “Blithe Spirit,” which concluded its run of performances in early March. Directed by Theatre Professor J.J. Cobb and written by Noel Coward, the play follows ill-fated writer Charles Condomine (Kyle Tinker-Palaia ‘24) after his attempts to curb his writer’s block summons the spirit of his late first wife Elvira (Paola Torres ‘25). 

“It was a challenging and refreshing experience,” said Karynn Hardy ‘25, who played the eccentric, hors d’oeuvres–loving clairvoyant who conjured up Elvira. “I had a blast taking on the role of Madame Arcatti — the sandwiches were great!” 

Eastern’s rendition of "Blithe Spirit" took the form of a drawing room play, with all events taking place in the abode of Charles and his indignant second wife Ruth (Jasmine Clark ‘24), for which the Belmonte Studio Theatre was decorated to fit the tastes of the 1940s. 

“I developed the architectural plans and virtual model for the show in collaboration with our director, J.J. Cobb,” said theatre Professor Tim Golebiewski. “As the set was engineered and constructed by our staff technical director, Jason Wadecki, I worked with teams of students to execute the paint and props for the show.” 

The Condomine’s lives are turned upside down one night when entertaining their pragmatic friend Dr. Bradman (Kane Waggoner ‘24) and his sassy wife Violet (Xsyanni Jackson ‘25), who take part in a seance conducted by Madame Arcati to communicate with Daphne, the house’s late former tenant (Jenaesia Jones ‘27). Playing on the gramophone is Irving Berlin’s 1925 hit “Always,” Elvira’s favorite song. 

Charles is the only one to see the specter of Elvira, who makes it her mission to terrorize Ruth. Ruth doesn’t believe Charles’s visions at first but quickly comes to acknowledge — and loathe — Elvira when she upsets the upholstery of the house. 

“The more we took risks to explore our characters on stage, the more it gave me the confidence to do the same," said Clark. "The cast is a wonderfully talented group and have become like a family to me with how we support one another. It honestly felt magical to see and hear the audience's reactions to the show — it added to the mystery! I really did fall in love with this show because of our amazing director, cast and crew, and I treasured performing it with all my heart.” 

In the play, Charles is torn between his late wife and his living wife. Elvira secretly sabotages the Condomines’ automobile in a desperate attempt to kill Charles and keep him for herself. Ruth accidentally falls into the trap and is killed. Twice bereaved and twice as frenetic, Charles and Madame Arcati collaborate to exorcise the angry ghosts of both his wives. Their attempts are in vain until high-strung housekeeper Edith (Emma Yacono ‘26) uses her newly discovered clairvoyance to send Ruth and Elvira back to the other side. 

Dramaturge Eva Glaser wrote that spiritualism was a taboo topic in the media for many years and that Noel Coward’s daring comedy was written during a time when the connotations were just starting to dissipate. 

“The decline in popularity can largely be attributed to the work of magician Harry Houdini, who dedicated a lot of energy to disproving spiritualism and the practices of mediums,” said Glaser. “Such attacks led to a decline in spiritualism as a common religious or cultural practice, and the nation’s focus shifted toward the more sensational aspects of the movement.” 

She wrote, “By 1940, American audiences were ready to receive a spiritualist play, not as material for religious contemplation, but as an amusing farce — queue Noël Coward’s 'Blithe Spirit.'” 

Written by Elisabeth Craig