“Blithe Spirit” at A Noise Within

Blithe Spirit

A Noise Within



“There’s no guarantee,” a character in Noel Coward’s enduring drawing room comedy Blithe Spirit tells us, “that the afterlife could be any less exasperating than this one,” proving when it comes to literary revelations on the quality of our species’ existence, nothing much has changed in 70 years.

Everyone from Sir Donald Wolfit to Edward Kean has been attributed with the wisecrack “Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” but since the origin of the phrase remains in question, somebody should simply credit Coward. This enduring classic featuring dead ex-wives materializing over afternoon tea is trotted out far too many times and far too unsuccessfully by theatre companies who want to parade their skills but instead simply reveal that their collective slips are showing, but touched by the visual whimsy of director Damaso Rodriguez and featuring charmingly atmospheric design elements from Kurt Boetcher (whose richly appointed set performs some smashing tricks of its own), spectral lighting by James P. Taylor, and incredible period costuming by E.B. Brooks, this resurrection of Sir Noel’s silly old warhorse couldn’t be more entertaining.

Infused with prodigious topical references all-too modern when the play first opened in London in 1941, from Madame Arcati’s spirit guide Daphne’s penchant for the music of Irving Berlin to the psychic spouting “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go” (which did come first, the ditty or the dwarves?), this quintessential Spirit is liberally slathered with Rodriguez’s knack for subtly slapstick minutia and uniformly blessed with precision comedic performances.


The gifted ensemble is led by Scott Lowell who, despite projecting too loudly in the intimate three-sided playing space, works himself into a fine frenzy as haunted writer Charles Condomine, a character who should have been born a few decades later when Prozac would become readily available. Abby Craden, who in Monica Lisa Sabedra’s deathly white zombie make-up resembles Ava Gardner returned to earth for a big budget remake of Night of the Living Dead, is comedic ambrosia as Charles’ late but not-so-departed first wife Elvira, the perfect foil for the neatly pulled-together Jill Van Velzer as his frustrated and soon-to-be departed present wife Ruth.

Gibby Brand as Dr. Bradman and the always hilarious Jacque Lynn Colton as his sweetly ball-breaking wife (I defy you to keep a straight face when her voice drops a few Yma Sumac-ian octaves to tell Brand “There’s no need to snap at me, George” or when she discusses his lost treatise on hyperplasia of the abdominal glands) are both pleasantly stuffy as their eager yet veddy provincially-British neighbors, invited to join the spooky titillation of the pivotal table-knocking séance presided over by Jane Macfie as eccentric local bicycling psychic Madame Arcati, who in turn rolls her “R’s” with juicy delight while delivering her character’s steady string of what Ruth calls “schoolgirl phraseology.”


Alison Elliott completes the cast with deadpanned abandon as the Condomine’s clumsy maid-in-training Edith, moving through the action—meant as a compliment, mind you—as though her movement coaches were the hippos in Fantasia.

If anything might be slightly off, it’s in the manners of the three feuding Condomines, living and dead, as at times their publicly aired quarrelling seems inappropriate to the era—and the play—when a more civil side-of-the-mouth aside while sipping their extra-dry martinis might suffice. Still, if we all put our hands on the table palms-down and hum “Always,” perhaps we could conjure more presentations like this. Except for minor quibbles, it’s definitely Coward as it should be played.

Blithe Spirit plays through Dec. 17 at A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Bl., Glendale; for tickets, call 818.240.0910 or log on at www.ANoiseWithin.org

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com