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Death’s no downer in blithe comedy



The specters make us laugh in Live Theatre Workshop’s production of “Blithe Spirit,” a jaunty visit to the land of spiritualists. At present there are two movies playing in Tucson about men falling in love with dead women – “Corpse Bride” and “Just Like Heaven.”

Plus the more serious film “Proof,” in which a woman has long conversations with her dead father.

Clearly, society is longing for a stronger connection with something from the beyond. “Blithe Spirit” may not be that something, but it’s fun to watch while we are waiting for the real thing to come along. After all, Noel Coward is the playwright. What’s not to like?

Jonathan Northover gives a dapper touch to the affable role of Charles, a man happy to have two women in his life. One who is alive and one who isn’t. Charles gets himself into this unusual situation by setting up a seance with the eccentric Madame Arcati (Jodi Rankin), a free-thinking medium whose conversations with the spirit world depend on what she had for dinner.

Madame Arcati is also a bicycle enthusiast. Her secret to riding up and over long hills without straining herself is, of course, to put mind over matter.

Charles is an upper-class novelist, planning to write his next book about characters possessed of the power to communicate with the deceased. So he has invited Madame Arcati to perform a seance, just in the name of research.

Coming along as skeptical participants are Charles’ wife Ruth (Molly Holleran) and their friends Dr. Bradman (Chuck Rankin) and Mrs. Bradman (Barbara Armstrong).

While the Bradmans are there just to keep the plot moving, Ruth becomes a squeaky third wheel in the noisy threesome with Charles and Elvira (Nicole Stein). Yes, she is the namesake figure on whom the late night TV horror movie hostess is based.

Elvira is lovely and … deceased. A beautiful ghost with a haunting appearance.

Elvira is also the manipulative sort who won’t let a little thing like death keep her from maneuvering Charles in whatever direction she chooses. Not that Charles minds too much. He’s happy to be manipulated.

The thing is, Charles and Elvira were married once upon a time. But seven years ago Elvira came down with a fatal respiratory illness. Now Charles has been married five years to his second wife, Ruth. Northover gives Charles that feathery kind of British personality Hugh Grant made so famous. The sort of fellow who is more than happy to have two wives. He doesn’t really mind if one of them no longer dwells among the living.

However, Ruth minds quite a bit. It only infuriates her even more to know that Charles and Elvira can see and hear each other quite nicely, while Ruth can’t see or hear Elvira at all. It’s almost as though they planned it that way.

You know what they say about the similarities between love and war. Ruth is determined to put a stop to Charles’ extramarital affair with his “ecto-plasmatic materialization.” She does not care how delighted Madame Arcati is that one of her seances produced such a fabulous parascientific phenomenon.

If only the LTW production’s director, Cliff Madison, had found a way to lighten up his cast’s delivery of Coward’s deliberately pretentious dialogue. This is the sort of thing Monty Python could reconstruct so brilliantly.

Being British probably does have something to do with it.

Graham’s grade: C+.

if you go

What: Live Theatre Workshop presents “Blithe Spirit” by Noel Coward.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 13.

Where: Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.

How much: $13-$15

Details: 327-4242

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