Monday, October 15, 2018
Stage

‘Blithe Spirit’ at Stageworks comes loaded with laughs in the hands of a highly skilled cast

TAMPA

Blithe Spirit is the kind of play theater aficionados could argue about but probably don’t. Does theater have to reinterpret older works to be relevant, or can a well-done rendering of a classic stand on its own?

Stageworks Theatre closes its season with this Noel Coward play and it likely escapes such scrutiny because it’s so damned funny. This tale of a successful, self-satisfied author arranging a seance that inadvertently summons the ghost of his ex-wife, who then refuses to leave. It comes loaded with laughs. The humor only works in the hands of a highly skilled cast, which this show fortunately has.

Coward wrote the play, one he described as a "very gay, superficial comedy about a ghost," in 1941 in a mere six days. He was wrong about the "superficial" part; there’s a hidden depth to the script, which is one the more paradoxical things about it.

Director Staci Sabarsky has turned in a congruent production. A two-toned living room with lots of wood and conspicuously displayed classics on a bookshelf give off a fragrance of entrenched status. Costumes by Frank Chavez pop with color, from the tangerine gown of writer George Condomine’s second wife to the silvery, silken billows clothing his first.

Characters blend into that social center, where Condomine mixes martinis in a gold smoking jacket, or depart from it, most profoundly in the case of Madame Arcati, the medium whose gifts upend a marriage. Scott Swenson plays Condomine with admirable understatement, consistent with a man who believes he deserves nothing but the best.

Rosemary Orlando brings verve as Madame, as well as a contagious confidence that lifts the entire cast. She doesn’t just throw open a side door in a pre-seance ritual to breathe in the air — she is that fresh air: bold, eccentric and sure to cause trouble.

The subject matter remains in its time, starting with that seance, a hangover from late 19th-century spiritualism. The spirits themselves transcend time, as Lauren Buglioli demonstrates in the role of Elvira, George’s deceased first wife, a lovely mix of flash and unfiltered snark. The fact that only he can see her creates endless sight gags, heightened when an increasingly testy Elvira begins messing with people’s heads for the fun of it.

But the most eternal element in Blithe Spirit is its language, by a playwright with as keen an ear for dialogue as any. "I laughed at you steadily, from the altar to the grave," Elvira says during a fight scene with George, after accusing him of possessing "a certain seedy grandeur."

An even more vituperative exchange with current wife Ruth, played with an arch sensibility by a spot-on Betty-Jane Parks, points to an underlying truth, namely the problems ghosts cause, revealing flaws in current relationships and creating new ones.

Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.
Follow @torch437.

Comments
‘Edgar & Emily’ imagines literary legends sharing verses and souls

‘Edgar & Emily’ imagines literary legends sharing verses and souls

TAMPA — Pale candlelight and a comforter on the king-sized bed set a ghostly mood for Edgar & Emily, which Jobsite Theater has scheduled to run beyond Halloween. David Jenkins directs Joseph McDonough’s comedy, which premiered six months ago in south...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Where to find Tampa Bay Halloween parties, pumpkin patches and events

Where to find Tampa Bay Halloween parties, pumpkin patches and events

Experience everything from kid-friendly events to horrifying haunted houses to spooky art projects this weekend in Tampa Bay.
Published: 10/11/18
Ernest Hooper: Tampa Bay Food Fight brings chefs, foodies together for good cause

Ernest Hooper: Tampa Bay Food Fight brings chefs, foodies together for good cause

The participants will fight for bragging rights, and the chance to help aspiring culinary artists.
Published: 10/10/18
What’s on stage this week: 'The Play That Goes Wrong,' Florida Orchestra does Harry Potter

What’s on stage this week: 'The Play That Goes Wrong,' Florida Orchestra does Harry Potter

In one play, everything goes wrong on purpose. Plus, the Florida Orchestra tackles Harry Potter, and Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Dickinson meet, defying the odds.
Published: 10/10/18
Zev Buffman retires as Ruth Eckerd Hall president and CEO

Zev Buffman retires as Ruth Eckerd Hall president and CEO

After seven years as the CEO and president of Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Zev Buffman has announced his retirement. The veteran theater impresario, who turns 88 next week, made the announcement on Thursday, but said he and his wife had reached t...
Published: 10/04/18
Updated: 10/05/18
This week on stage: American Stage’s ‘Between Riverside and Crazy,’ lots of comedy

This week on stage: American Stage’s ‘Between Riverside and Crazy,’ lots of comedy

AMERICAN STAGE: BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZYWalter "Pops" Johnson, a retired New York City police officer, has his hands full in Between Riverside and Crazy, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ 2015 Pulitzer-winning play. American Stage opens the season with L. Pet...
Published: 10/03/18
Seventy years after war crimes trials, ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ still asks a timely question

Seventy years after war crimes trials, ‘Judgment at Nuremberg’ still asks a timely question

TAMPA — A simple set tells the story. A table for three judges assigned to rule on war crimes following World War II rests on stacks of suitcases, signifying hasty travel. On the floor, by a gallery of defendants, snakes a trail of discarded shoes. W...
Published: 10/01/18
Florida Orchestra opens season with a powerful Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5

Florida Orchestra opens season with a powerful Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5

TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra season got off to a strong start Friday with Ludwig van Beethoven’s most famous work, the broodingly triumphant Symphony No. 5. Music director Michael Francis also conducted Sergei Rachmaninoff’s breakout Piano Concerto ...
Updated one month ago
Florida Orchestra extends contract of music director Michael Francis an additional three years

Florida Orchestra extends contract of music director Michael Francis an additional three years

ST. PETERSBURG — With the Florida Orchestra on stage behind him, Michael Francis was deep into a lecture Thursday about Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 when an alert went off on someone’s phone.The music director paused."An Amber Alert," he mused. "Is it ...
Updated one month ago
On stage this week: Orchestra opens with Beethoven, Freefall with ‘The Fantasticks’

On stage this week: Orchestra opens with Beethoven, Freefall with ‘The Fantasticks’

FLORIDA ORCHESTRA: BEETHOVEN’S FIFTHLudwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 begins famously — da-da-da-daaaaah — and builds through mind-boggling elaborations on that motif. Music director Michael Francis conducts as the Florida Orchestra opens its sea...
Updated one month ago