Pictured: Cheryl Weaver during the first rehearsal for BLITHE SPIRIT. Photo courtesy of Kansas City Actors Theatre.
PerformInk takes you inside Kansas City Actors Theatre’s production of BLITHE SPIRIT through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past “Inside” articles click here.
By Director Doug Weaver
“If love were all, I should be lonely” – Noel Coward and “Blithe Spirit”
When you think of Noel Coward (IF you do), words like witty, sarcastic, light, cynical, snarky, impertinent and irreverent come to mind. This will most likely be followed by images of martinis, cigarettes and banter that is lighter than air and stings like tiny pin pricks. He is a playwright connected to word play, drawing room comedies, and Comedy of Manners… and there is a reason for this. And yet, when asked near the end of his life to sum up his output in one word – he said “Love.”
Blithe Spirit was written in six days early in 1941. World War II was in full swing and London was dealing with the bombings. He went to the coast with a friend to write a ghost comedy that had been running through his head. He said, “I would write a play to provide a merry diversion for my compatriots in these gloomy days.” So he wrote a play centered around death and the haunting of a ghost? Hardly seems like comedic fodder, and yet as he said about this and other of his plays, “I am light minded. I would inevitably write a comedy – if God help me – I wanted to write a play with a message.” This play would become his longest-running play (1,997 performances), second only to Mousetrap in the history of the West End.
It was not very well received by the critics, though. Some who had lauded him, questioned his taste in writing on this subject during this awful time of War. Obviously, the people thought differently. It is apparent that the exceptional humor in the play helped the audience to its conclusions, but I think
Coward had more going on than a “merry diversion.” During this time of strife, how many people in England would crave seeing a departed loved one come back again?
Coward vicariously gave them that chance with Blithe Spirit. But being who he was, he made sure
they knew it would not be what they really wanted. For Coward, love may not really be possible. As
one critic said of him, “Does anyone every live happily ever after in a Coward play?”
This play is also a marvelous chance for an actor to stretch their wings and bring ALL of their training to bear. It is a play that requires an actor to understand character and psychology, and to do all of the work their training taught them to do. These are real people, with real problems, needs and desires (YES, even Elvira… maybe especially Elvira). But all of that work must be used in service to a certain type of comedy/farce. There is a technique that is required. You have to hold a martini glass a certain way, carry yourself just so, speak with an accent and at a pace that fits with the manner in which the play is written. In other words… play it as it lays. A golfing metaphor seems somehow fitting for Coward. By the way, these actors have more than risen to the occasion. They are beautifully Cowardesque.
So when you come and see Blithe Spirit (and my goodness, why wouldn’t you?) please enjoy the fun, the magic, the suspense and the amazing badinage. And keep in mind this play, written by a man who spent his life and his work searching for that certain something, might really be about the tragic impossibility of love.
Doug Weaver is a director, teacher, writer, actor and stage combat choreographer. He is the Director of Theatrical Arts at Bishop Seabury Academy in Lawrence, Kansas, the director of EARTH (Equity Actors’ Readers Theatre) in Kansas City, a Phoenix Award-winner and freelance director around the Midwest. Recently, he directed “Full Gallop” at Spinning Tree, “Mousetrap” at Kansas Repertory Theatre and “At Home at the Zoo” at Kansas City Actors Theatre. As an actor, he originated the role of Archie in Mark Medoff’s “The Homage That Follows” and the role of Korczak in “Dreams Carved in Stone” at the Black Hills Playhouse. He is also the lead singer for the band The Substitutes.
Weaver’s work can be seen on stage starting August 6th as Kansas City Actors Theatre presents “Blithe Spirit,” by Noel Coward. The show features Coleman Crenshaw, Matt Rapport, Jan Rogge, Cinnamon Schultz, Vanessa Severo, Margaret Shelby and Cheryl Weaver. For more information visit kcactors.org.