Theater review: ‘Blithe Spirit’ at Parkway Playhouse

KINDRED SPIRIT: Amanda Klinikowski, Sarah Cooper and Myra McCoury star in 'Blithe Spirit.' Photo courtesy of Parkway Playhouse

When novelist Charles Condomine (played by Daniel Moore in Parkway Playhouse’s current run of the Noël Coward comedy Blithe Spirit) wants to research the occult, he invites Madame Arcati (Sarah Cooper) over for a séance. After the crystal ball reading, he gets more than he bargained for when the ghost of his first wife, Elvira (Amanda Klinikowski), is summoned up. Since Charles is the only one who can see her, Elvira aims to wreak havoc on his marriage to new wife, Ruth (Myra McCoury). It’s quickly discovered that Elvira may want Charles to rest in peace alongside her.

The show runs through Saturday, May 19, at the Burnsville theater.

Coward’s play is famous for its lighthearted fun. This production, directed by Jenny Martin, is content to remain in that zone, and, in that manner, it does not disappoint. However, it might have been more rewarding to see a much spookier version.

The signature character of Madame Arcati won the great Angela Lansbury a Tony award in 2009. In this production, a darker edge could have been brought forth with the medium. Instead, Cooper plays the role with eccentricity, but she produces many laughs and certainly appeals to the audience.

As a whole, the cast is great, but there are three absolutely stellar performances in this production. Moore, Klinikowski and McCoury surprise us with remarkable synergy. Such a combination is absolutely essential to hold our attention through this three-act play.

The handsome Moore is expertly cast as the torn husband. He is driven into wonderful hysterics when his character cannot get Ruth to believe him.

Klinikowski saunters onto the scene in her long, terrifically witchy dress by costume designer Christine Caldemeyer. She has such a realistic ghostly presence. It would be easy to inflate this character, but Klinikowski lingers like an ominous fog.

McCoury courageously balances her character with sharpness and drama.  There is an exceptional moment when she is left crying in the corner, which shatters any doubt about her character being one-note. Her impeccably timed comedy is a beautiful counter to Moore’s style.

There are a few minor roles in this play. Only the maid, Edith (Alyssa Taylor), really has anything special to do with the plot. However, Jered Shults and Rachel Haimowitz as Dr. and Mrs. Bradman make undeniably great impressions.

The special effects in this show are important and rather tricky. They should cause a commotion and leave the audience feeling rattled. Unfortunately, such challenges got the best of this production, which weakened the ending. The old-fashioned sound design by Martin is wonderful, though.

This show gives the impression of watching a classic, romantic ghost flick like Topper, starring Cary Grant and Constance Bennett. It was released in 1937, a few years before Blithe Spirit was produced, and their similarities are unmistakable. There’s a charming vintage quality to Blithe Spirit that truly resonates, and even though the message is weightless, it’s nice to walk away smiling.

WHAT: Blithe Spirit
WHERE: Parkway Playhouse, 202 Green Mountain Drive, Burnsville, parkwayplayhouse.com
WHEN: Through Saturday, May 19. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. $11-22

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About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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