Blithe Spirit: An Improbable Farce in Three Acts by Noel Coward offers the faculty, cast and crew of IPFW's current production a chance to sparkle in a witty classic, and they take advantage of the opportunity fully.
The plot of the play centers on the unexpected effects of a séance held at the home of novelist Charles Condomine and his wife Ruth and performed by the eccentric Madame Arcati. Also on hand are a local doctor and his wife and the Condomines' awkward new maid. When Daphne, Madame Arcati's spirit guide, summons Elvira, the dead first wife of Charles and titular spirit, frustration and confusion take over the household.
The play, performed often on both Broadway and in regional theaters since 1941, provides traditionally witty Coward dialogue and the sophisticated characters associated for which the society playwright is known. Its lightness shines through the darkness of the occult.
With the exception of one actor, all members of this strong cast are students in the IPFW Department of Theatre. The guest actor, IPFW adjunct faculty member and always amazing Kate Black, made a perfect and believable Madame Arcati on opening night and was hilarious.
As the exasperated Charles, IPFW senior Brock Graham is strong as his character tries with varying levels of success to meet the needs of two very different wives with charm.
Brooke O'Mara, also a senior, is a good choice as the delightful though temperamental Elvira. She has grown into a strong performer during her years at IPFW, demonstrating an ability to assume a huge variety of roles.
Charles' more reserved (and living) wife, Ruth, is played well by junior Laura Laudeman. She has to show a fairly large range of emotions and does it with a consistently solid English accent.
The cast is rounded out by junior Chance Parker as Dr. Bradman, senior Karyn Brumbaugh as his wife and sophomore Alayna Thornton as maid Edith, who has a few secrets and is fun to watch as she learns how to conduct herself with decorum in her new position.
This play is by no means a short one, as an usher warned those of us entering Williams Theatre. With two ten-minute intermissions, it runs nearly three hours. The time runs quickly, so I am not sure it serves as a complaint, but it is a bit long compared to many plays.
Craig A. Humphrey serves as director of this production as well as the costume designer. In the latter role he makes incredibly good choices, especially in the costuming of Elvira and, later, Ruth, who appear otherworldly.The set of this production, the living room of the country house of the Condomines, is lush, incredibly well crafted, and serves the actors well. I teach an English class this semester at IPFW, and a student of mine worked on the set as part of the build and paint crew for another class he is taking, giving him an excuse to arrive late to my class. I mention that only to illustrate something I think is pretty nifty about our having a full university department of theater right here in Fort Wayne. The experiences offered, for full credit, to local and area students help to develop much of the talent we see not only on IPFW's two stages but on those of the other theaters that serve us, as well.