The State College Community Theatre is bringing a smash comedy hit of the London and Broadway stages to downtown State College with its production of “Blithe Spirit” at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center Thursday-May 22.
The show will run for three evening performances at 8 p.m., a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m.
Written by Noël Coward and first produced in 1941, “Blithe Spirit” revolves around the main character Charles Condomine, a novelist who invites a lively psychic into his home and mistakenly brings his first wife back from the beyond. The play takes a comedic turn with Condomine remarried to his second wife, Ruth, and now being haunted by his first wife.
The cast features familiar SCCT performers, as well as cast members new to SCCT productions. Cast members include Jonathan Hetler as Charles Condomine, Jocelyn Kotary as Ruth, Jackie Gianico as Madame Arcati and Kim Plummer as Elvira.
“Blithe Spirit” is produced by Ellysa Stern Cahoy and Becky Friedenberg, with Bruce Fleischer directing. The creative team also includes Stephanie Whitesell, Jon Vickers-Jones, Asher Atwood and Megan Calon.
The play is set in Britain in the 1940s, focusing on the Condomines, Charles and his second wife Ruth. Charles plans to have a medium as a character in his next novel. To get material for his book, he invites the village medium to perform a séance.
Madame Arcati, the medium, conjures up the ghost of Elvira, Charles’ first wife, who died seven years previously in a most hilarious fashion. Only Charles can see and hear Elvira, which leads to confusion as she makes continued, and increasingly desperate, efforts to disrupt Charles’ marriage. In trying to send Elvira back to the “other side,” Madame Arcati involves the Condomines in a series of hilarious events.
“Blithe Spirit” really has no message, per se — it is truly a situation comedy, from which humor arises organically from an absolutely absurd situation.
“The fun of the play springs from how these particular characters, with their all-too-human flaws and quirks, deal with each other and with the extremely odd circumstances in which they find themselves,” Fleischer said. “It is really a bit of very witting and entertaining froth.”
Charles is rather arrogant and self-absorbed and has been “reasonably faithful” to his wives.
“For me, the truth in the character is that love for him is shallow and immature,” Hetler said. “I remember what that was like when I was younger. Love hasn’t lasted the test of time for Charles. This allows me to explore an alter-ego side of myself — a man that is vain and truly only desires his own pleasure. It is quite delightful.”
Elvira is a fun character for Plummer to portray, as her goals are very much self-centered and her personality is carefree and at times immature.
“No one but Charles can see or hear her so she can be quite mischievous as she seeks to disrupt Charles’ current marriage,” she said. “She exudes sarcasm in her responses, which I must say has been enjoyable for me to portray and is very much in line with my own personality.”
As a teacher, Gianico believes she is just like her character Madame Arcati — honest, passionate and sometimes even ridiculous.
“I love Madame Arcati,” she said. “She’s not the most skilled in what she does but she takes her job very seriously and enjoys it very much — maybe too much. Madame Arcati has been a great outlet for my inner goofball. I can’t wait to show her to an audience so they can see how fun she is.”
In preparation for the show, Plummer looked at her character and imagined what it would be like to come back to the man she married after being dead for seven years — seeing that he now has a new life and wanting desperately to be back in that life with him.
“The interactions between Charles and his wives are quite comic in that as he is speaking to Elvira, and Ruth believes he is really speaking to her and becomes angry with his behavior,” Plummer said. “There are misunderstandings that arise from these interactions, which lead to hilarious outcomes. ‘Blithe Spirit’ is one of Noel Coward’s comedic masterpieces, and I believe audiences will enjoy the clever dialogue and farcical situations.”
For Hetler, one line from “Blithe Spirit” describes the show perfectly: “ ‘Empty your minds,’ — it is meant just for that; a comedy that will leave you in a light-hearted mood and hopefully wanting more,” he said. “Coward did not write this play for heart, but that doesn’t mean it is fluff. It is beautifully told and serves as a great reminder that laughter is the best medicine.”
IF YOU GO
- What: “Blithe Spirit”
- When: 8 p.m. Thursday, May 20 and 21; 2 p.m. May 21; 3 p.m. May 22
- Where: Penn State Downtown Theatre Center
- Info: https://scctonline.org