Tuesday, July 07, 2009

When A Parlour Is Triangular - Blithe Spirit & Candida - Play Reviews

Blithe Spirit - Shubert Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Noël Coward, Directed by Michael Blakemore
Runs until July 19th 2009

Candida - Burning Passions Theatre at Innis Town Hall - Toronto Fringe Festival, Toronto, ON - **** (out of 5 stars)
Written by George Bernard Shaw, Directed by Laurel Smith
Runs until July 12th 2009 (NOTE: I've changed the grade since originally published)

Two terrific casts (one famous, one not at all) revive spirited and silly comedies written by the "masters" of theatre. Both plays make much ado about nothing when things conjure up unforeseen love triangles. While the plays themselves are entertaining, if not slight, both productions, one large and luscious on Broadway, the other simple and efficient at the Toronto Fringe Festival, are top notch with some great performances and some amazing leading ladies that elevate the simplicity of their plays.

Blithe Spirit on Broadway stars Angela Lansbury in her (5th) Tony winning role as Madame Arcati, a spirit conjurer who accidentally brings back Rupert Everett's Charles' deceased wife Elvira (Christine Ebersole) as a ghost, much to Charles' current wife Ruth's (Jayne Atkison) dismay. Jealousy between the spirit and real world's persist, a loony mousy maid (a very funny Louise O'Connor), and some additional houseguests (Simon Jones and the always funny Deborah Rush) intermix in this parlour room ghost comedy.

While the play is mostly amusing, particularly the second act, you're really there to watch Angela Lansbury play a total kook, and it's absolutely delightful. The most shameful thing about the performance is that it's actually smaller than the billing would have you believe and Lansbury's Madame Arcati disappears quite often (not like magically, just off-stage).

While Jayne Atkinson and Rupert Everett are good as the squabbling central couple Charles and Ruth, when Lansbury exits the stage again, there's a slight lull in the plotline again.

At least until Christine Ebersole (The Royal Pains, Grey Gardens) floats in and ironically, livens up the place as the dead Elvira. Ebersole is such a glow in an even kookier role than Lansbury's, that she practically seems like she's in another play, much to this play's advantage.

It's not a brilliant play, but with some utterly delightful performances and an amusingly simple story of some ghostly shenanigans, Blithe Spirit is a charming few hours at the theatre.

Candida is the glorious woman at the centre of an awkward love triangle formed by two other silly men. Boys really. And with Candida's smart, lovely, independent and charming ways, seems like the most perfect of modern women, in this G.B. Shaw play that I had never heard of before this production.

Rev. James Morell (Jeffrey Aarles, above right) things his marriage to the effervescent Candida is secure, until he beings developing jealousy when the twitchy and socially awkward young man Eugene Marchbanks (Christopher Ryan) decides it's time for him to declare his love to Morell's wife Candida.

Considering I had never heard of this theatre company, or any of the cast members, I was surprised by the quality of the production, which could move straight over to the more famous Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake.

While Christopher Ryan's true age and looks might throw the play off a bit, since he looks much older than the 18 year old boy he's supposed to play, his mannerisms and speech is perfectly convincing. Aarles does a fine job as an upstanding pastor who devolves into a selfish and jealous child when he realizes he has the chance of losing his beloved Candida.

However nothing would work if we didn't believe Candida was worth fighting for, and Katie Lawson is WONDERFUL! Splendid! Delightful! Lawson's Candida is beautifully real and intelligent, with her wits and street sense so advanced, that it takes her a moment to figure out the backwards squabbling from the men around her.

The rest of the cast is absolutely lovely, including Whitney Barris as the no-nonsense Miss Proserpine Garrett, David Kynaston as the handsome but loafing Rev. Alexander Mill, and Daryl Taylor as Burgess, Candida's father.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

1 comment:

Esther said...

I'm seeing Blithe Spirit next week. I saw a local production a couple years ago so I know what to expect in terms of Angela Lansbury's part. I liked the play, didn't love it, the last time so we'll see if seeing it on Broadway makes a difference!

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