Monday, May 14, 2018

Blithe Spirit—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR

Spirit of the Idle Rich

     This classic comedy by Noel Coward is directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space in The Vault Theatre, 350 E. Main St., in Hillsboro, through May 27th.  For more information, go to their site at  or call 503-345-9590.

     If you’ve ever wondered whether the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, this play may give you a glimpse, in a farcical sort of way.  Suggestion of a job, with these sort of people, is only mentioned in passing and then only as a sort of necessary evil.  If one is forced to pursue such a “hobby” such as, in this case, a doctor or writer, it is only because of the high fees they can collect among their clients…er, patients, and the gossip that can be attained.  And, of course, in these worlds, the woman’s job was simply to look pretty, be seen at swanky affairs and be at the beck-and-call of their husbands.  A patriarchal society, to say the least.  Far removed from that now, aren’t we?!

     A note about the presentation.  This is a highly-stylized show that in Coward’s day would have been the “cat’s meow.”  It is more in the line of Moliere than Simon, in that it is a series of repartees and one-liners that are not meant to reflect the “real” world, but one in which satire rules supreme.  The emphasis then is not so much on story or naturalistic style, but on witty verbal exchanges.  But, in this case, there is also a pretty cool plot underneath, which is why Coward rises to the top of his class.

     Charles (Andrew Beck) is a somewhat successful mystery writer.   He lives in only the poshest of neighborhoods in the most elegant of estates.  He is egotistical, smarmy and aloof.  His second wife, Ruth (Cassie Greer), is even more conceited and snippy and rules her exclusive domain with an iron paw.  Pity the maid, Edith (Arianne Jacques), who is so eager to please, she rushes about the homestead with bunny-steps in a precise, military fashion.

     On this particular evening, Charles has decided that he needs some more fodder for his novel involving the occult and has arranged a séance with his friends, the stoic, Dr. Bradman (Peter Schuyler) and his giddy wife (Jessica Geffen).  And the focal guest for this historic/hysteric evening is the eccentric, Madame Arcati (Kymberli Colbourne), with a voice like a foghorn and a appearance like a football fullback, a take-charge sort of lady.

     Well, they do have some laughs, imbibe in alcohol and do, in the long run, raise one hell-of-a-spirit, in the guise of Charles’ first wife, the ever-demanding, Elvira (Jessi Walters), who insists she has been summoned, presumably by Charles.   One can only imagine the sort of turmoil this will raise.  Complications arise, confrontations befall and confusion reigns, before all is resolved, sort of.  Can’t tell you more without spoiling the plot, so you’ll just have to indulge yourself.
 Palmer has done an outstanding job of casting this play and choreographed it like a dance, as well as keeping the dialogue coming fast and furious.  The clever lighting effects (Jim Ricks-White), the period costumes (Melissa Heller) and the lovely set (Tyler Buswell), all add to the success of the show.  (Interesting to note, the name of this company is uttered in this play).

     Beck is a good, slipping into Coward’s skin (who it was written for) in his never-flustered portrayal of Charles.  Greer has, perhaps, the most precise, clipped speech pattern of the cast, as the steel-backboned, Ruth.  Walters is an appropriately “flighty” Elvira, who is on a mission, not necessarily from God.  And Schuyler is properly stone-faced as the doctor.

     And some small gems exist in Geffen, who is always first-rate in a play, as the ditzy chameleon, who can change her colors, as needed, for a harridan of the first order.  She shines.  Also, Jacques, takes the spotlight, as needed, as the harassed maid, who has a secret.  Her movements are spot-on.  And Colbourne is the crowning glory, as the cigar-chomping, whip-crackin’ showman, who takes no prisoners.  She’s a firecracker who lights up the stage!

I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell then Dennis sent you.

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