Noel Coward once said, “Wit ought to be a glorious treat like caviar; never spread it about like marmalade.” For Blithe Spirit, the playwright squarely follows his own advice. First seen in 1941 in London’s West End, the comic play is peppered with droll bon mots throughout a plot that crescendos with a farcical ending full of laughs. It’s a perennial audience favorite that has had several Broadway revivals over the past 70 years and is Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group’s choice for the first dramatic offering of the 2019-2020 season.
Set in a 1940s English country house, the story takes place in Charles and Ruth Condomine’s living room as the couple gets ready for their dinner guests — the town doctor and his wife, and Madame Arcati, a medium. Charles (Oren Skoog) is writing a book about ghosts (he doesn’t believe in them) and wants to get background for the novel by participating in a séance. Though the evening is conceived as a lark, the Condomines get more than they bargained for when Charles’s dead first wife, Elvira (Leesa Beck), materializes; only Charles can see her, which sets the stage for hilarious miscommunications between Charles and his living wife, Ruth (Courtney Schwass).
Skoog and Schwass trade lines with an easy rapport, convincingly descending from a content partnership into a sniping and, eventually, contemptuous couple as Elvira’s presence undoes their marriage. Beck brings breezy, flirty fun to her role as Elvira, and Schwass nails the clipped, quick locution often associated with upper-crust ladies of the 1940s. As Madame Arcati, Leslie Ann Story is splendidly batty and exuberant, teasing numerous chuckles from the audience with her comic timing and amusing mannerisms. Rich period costumes and an attractive set design kept the crowd visually engaged as the actors moved the narrative along nicely.
SBCC’s production of Blithe Spirit is lively entertainment and great way to spend a cool autumn evening.