If you’re wary of attending the latest splatter fest at your local multiplex and seeking a kinder, gentler Halloween season entertainment, Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions brings you Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit, running through November 4. It’s an old-fashioned ghost story laden with Coward’s acerbic wit and charm.
Author Charles Condomine (Tim Kniffin) is researching the occult world for his next novel. He’s invited a local medium, Madame Arcati (Karen Pinomaki), to conduct a séance in his home. Charles is convinced she’s a charlatan, but Arcati manages to call forth the spectral presence of his late first wife Elvira (Sydney Schwindt). As Charles is the only one who can see or hear Elvira, Charles’ current wife Ruth (Kirstin Pieschke) thinks he’s going quite mad. Soon convinced of Elvira’s presence, Ruth finds herself in a battle with Elvira over their husband.
At first terrified with the situation, Charles actually begins to take some delight in the circumstances and starts to adapt to living with two wives – even if one is dead. Elvira goes about scheming to get Charles to join her on the ‘other side’ while Ruth seeks out Madame Arcati to help rid her of the troublesome spirit. That’s easier said than done.
Director Barry Martin brings a light touch and a good cast to this production. Kniffin is solid as the initially flustered but soon rolling-with-the-punches Charles who, after closer examination, is really quite a cad. He’s the perfect vehicle to deliver some classic Coward lines in a classic Coward manner. Schwindt is a lot of fun as the devilish Elvira and gets a major assist from makeup designer Brette Bartolucci. Small, intimate spaces like Lucky Penny can be a test for makeup designs as the audience’s proximity to the stage can make the artificiality abundantly clear. In this case, Bartolucci’s makeup and April George’s lighting design work really well together.
As Madame Arcati, Pinomaki has the showiest role (it won Angela Lansbury her fourth Tony for the 2009 revival) and garners big laughs with her physicality. Festooned in costume designer Barbara McFadden’s colorful accoutrements, Pinomaki earns those laughs by playing the character straight. Her visual outlandishness and other spectral bits are nice counterparts to the dry verbal humor for which Coward is best known and that this cast delivers well.
The show creaks a bit, but in a day when stage pyrotechnics often overwhelm a show, it’s nice to be reminded that the words are what really matter.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★½
‘Blithe Spirit’ plays through November 4 at the Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, 1758 Industrial Way, Napa. Thursday, 7pm; Friday–Saturday, 8pm; Sunday, 2pm. $23–$33. 707.266.6305.
Photos by Kurt Gonsalves
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.