The subconscious is a funny thing particularly when it's paired with the cleverness of Noel Coward.
"Blithe Spirit," a three-hour play about the mysteries of love and death, opened Friday night in Crafton-Preyer Theatre. The University Theatre production is ably directed by Paul Meier and its every aspect scenic design, lighting, sound, costume, dialects, special effects, movement and, of course, acting shines.
Set in 1941, the play captures the feel of the times by using music and radio broadcasts of the World War II era. Writer Charles Condomine (John Buxton) and his second wife, Ruth (Mo Perry), invite Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Charlie Hirsch, Kate Haugan) to their home for a seance, an exercise to provide the writer with background information for a ghost story he is writing. Enter Madame Arcati (Ginger Bartkoski), a psychic; Elvira (Rita DeLoach), Condomine's dead first wife; and Edith (Geri Cohen), a maid who also turns out to have psychic powers.
Bartkoski radiates as Madame Arcati and provides much of the play's humor. Perry and Buxton do a good job of creating the aristocratic air of England's upper crust through the way they carry themselves onstage and their precise diction/dialect. Their marital wrangling at the beginning of Act II is a hoot.
The two-story set provides many entry points for Coward's ghostly goings-on: Doors open and shut automatically, lights flicker, tables move across the floor, paintings fall from the walls. The lighting design adds to the storyline and is particularly beautiful when creating the early morning sunlight.
While "Blithe Spirit" is a comedy, it also was Coward's way of dealing with or perhaps more accurately denying the death and destruction of the war that surrounded him. The mind often protects us from things we're not prepared and/or able to face. Lucky for us Coward's shield was his pen.
"Blithe Spirit" continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. March 11 in Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall.