Main Street Theater Shakes Off An Awkward Start For Blithe Spirit

The set-up: Blithe Spirit is Noel Coward's famous comedy that asks the question, "What happens if death do us not part?" Charles Condomine, a fussy English novelist and his new wife, Ruth, are haunted by the ghost of his first wife, Elvira. Personality clashes, the appearance of a flamboyant (and possibly slightly insane) medium and Coward's signature one-liners are all on call in this clever piece of comedy.

The execution: Director Claire Hart-Palumbo had to replace her lead, a character that appears in almost every scene, just a week before opening night. Fortunately, Equity actor Joel Sandel was able to step into the breach. On opening night he was reading from the book during the last 30 minutes or so, but still carried the role of a prissy, middle-aged popular novelist who has accidentally become an "astral bigamist" (he has two wives, one of whom is a ghost) with veddy British aplomb.

In any case, Michelle Britton steals the show as Madame Arcati, the spiritualist who, during a séance, brings the novelist's first wife back from the beyond, so that she can compete with wife number two. Britton uses her girth to great comic effect as she goes in and out of trances, and her voice is a marvel. At times, she sings her lines like some kind of very English cuckoo.

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The verdict: The production was good fun on opening night, and should only get better as Sandel masters his role.

Through July 3, 2011 at Main Street Theater--Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose Blvd. Call 713-524-6706 or visit www.mainstreettheater.com for tickets.

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