Theater review: Ole Miss Theatre’s production of ‘Blithe Spirit’ breathes new life into dated script

Posted on Sep 29 2017 - 8:00am by Jonathan Gibson

Ole Miss Theatre’s production of “Blithe Spirit” successfully revives one of 1940s-era Britain’s beloved classics, but it’s not for the unengaged patron; lose your focus for a moment, and you may find yourself struggling to understand this dated play, despite excellent efforts from the cast and creative team.

“Blithe Spirit” follows the life of Mr. and Mrs. Condomine, wealthy socialites who host a dinner party that takes a supernatural turn. During a seance, the medium Madame Arcati accidentally summons Mr. Condomine’s dead first wife, Elvira, who proceeds to haunt him for the rest of the show and attempts to dismantle his current marriage with Mrs. Condomine.

Tackling a show of this length — around two-and-a-half hours — and from this time period is a feat to be recognized, certainly. The jokes are dated and at times difficult to understand unless you are an aficionado of early-20th-century British humor or have a sharp ear that can latch onto the dry wit littered throughout the script.

But this cast of seven handles it with dedication and energy, breathing new life into what might have been an otherwise boring show.

The show begins with a long portion of dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Condomine that is filled with exposition and details an inattentive viewer might miss. It takes a long time for anything really exciting to happen. Don’t let this surprise you or discourage you. Things take a turn quickly, and before you know it, you’ll be struggling to take in all the craziness unfolding in front of you.

John Brahan (Mr. Condomine) and Alexis Simon (Mrs. Condomine) carry the bulk of the show, and they show a remarkable ability to interpret long strings of complicated dialogue in an accessible, conversational way. Occasionally, you might see bumps and stumbles over particularly tricky sections, but for the most part, the two have a strong chemistry and a knack for finding the humor and tension in all the important moments in the show.

Darbianna Dinsmore (Elvira) does an excellent job of portraying the slightly crazed dead wife of Mr. Condomine, and her gracefulness onstage combines with her overall haunting presence to draw the viewer in. There are moments in which her deadpan delivery of lines will leave you laughing long after the scene has moved on.

Zach Denmark (Dr. Bradman) and Sydney Hanson (Mrs. Bradman) both provide entertaining performances as the unfortunate guests of Mr. Condomine’s dinner party, but there were several funny moments that were lost due to dropped lines or simply going through dialogue too quickly. Regardless, the duo shows the ability to react to things happening onstage in a natural way and gives the audience some comic relief.

There are two standout performers in the show, however; Anderson Bandy (Madame Arcati) and Rachel Daglis (Edith) will make you laugh out loud every time they’re on stage. Their comic timing is fantastic. Like the rest of the cast, Bandy stumbled through some moments in which lines were said too quickly, and funny moments lost their punch because of it, but every member of the cast showed a great ability to recover from these moments and still deliver a quality performance. Daglis rarely speaks in the show, but she does not need to have lines to steal the spotlight with her physical comedy.

This review would be lacking if it didn’t address the gorgeous scenic design by Jared Spears and lighting design by Jeffrey Hannah.

The two work together seamlessly to draw you into the time period, with an entire living room — complete with three floor-to-ceiling windows, working lamps and wall light fixtures — built onto the stage. Combined with the sound design by Jonathan Lee, you’ll feel fully immersed in the haunting atmosphere of the show as soon as the lights first start to flicker and the sheer curtains onstage begin to blow in the supernatural breeze.

If you decide to see this show, be prepared to pay attention and listen closely. The accents take time to get used to, and the plot takes time to develop.

This show suffers from a dragging first act and moments of low energy sprinkled throughout, but despite these hiccups, the cast pulls together an excellent production that’s worth seeing, albeit not necessarily the best choice for the first-time theatergoer.

The show runs 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29-30, Oct. 3-7 and 10-15, and at 2 p.m. Oct. 1, 7-8 and 15 in Meek Auditorium. Tickets are $20 for adults, $16 for faculty and staff and $15 for students, children and seniors.