Review: ‘Blithe Spirit” at City Lights Theater Company, San Jose (***)

Madame Arcati (Lisa Mallette) communes with the spirits in City Lights production of Noel Coward’s haunting, “Blithe Spirit.” Photo Credit Christian Pizzirani.

by Otto Coelho

Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

At one time or another, we have all had the following experience: something is said or happens during a current relationship that triggers a memory or memories of a previous relationship. Our reactions to those memories, whether positive or negative, can elicit reactions from the current object of our affection. In a sense, we are haunted by the ghosts of relationships past.

In his classic comedy “Blithe Spirit,” now playing at San Jose’s City Lights Theater Company, Noel Coward shows us what an actual haunted relationship might look like (note: it’s funnier if it’s an actual haunting—especially if it is happening to somebody else). Written in 1941, it’s a well-written and hilarious work. Among Coward’s best, it is chock full of snappy dialogue, word play, and delightful characters.

There is a lot to like about this production. The best performance of the evening coming from Lisa Mallette as Madame Arcati. It’s the kind of role an actress can sink her teeth into, and Mallette must have a terrific dental plan. I have seen lesser performers edge into goofiness with this character, but Mallette deftly navigates Madame Arcati’s eccentricities while keeping her firmly grounded.  George Psarras is good as Charles Condomine, the crime fiction author haunted by his first wife. Maria Marquis is marvelous as Ruth – the current, living wife of Charles. Watching Marquis play all of the different notes of her character and her transitions into them was delightful. As Elvira, the late first Mrs. Condomine, Georgia Ball does a fine job, but I felt her mannerisms played as a bit modern for this piece set in the 1940s. Skylar Rose Adams has a nice turn as the housemaid Edith.

Mark Anderson Phillips’ stage direction of his actors is good, but the pacing of the show is uneven, especially in the first act. Coward should clip along at a brisk pace, and there were sections that plodded a bit. Scene changes seemed a bit slow for me. Also, during the preshow announcements it mentions one fifteen minute intermission and “a pause” between acts. It’s a three act play – two intermissions makes sense. An intermission and a “pause” seemed to confuse most of the audience. Scenic Designer Ron Gasparinetti’s set is absolutely delicious, and Ed Hunter lights it with warmth and to great effect. Costumes by Pat Tyler are lovely.

Overall, there are some good laughs and a good time to be had at City Lights Theater Company’s production of “Blithe Spirit.” Go see some local theatre and help them celebrate their 40th year of bringing live theatre to San Jose.

“Blithe Spirit” continues at the City Lights Theater Company through April 23rd. For more information, click here.


Rating: *** (For an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)


“Blithe Spirit” by Noel Coward. Produced by City Lights Theater Company. Director: Mark Anderson Phillips. Scenic Designer: Ron Gasparinetti. Lighting Designer: Ed Hunter. Costume Designer: Pat Tyler. Sound Designer: George Psarras. Dialect Coach/Cultural Consultant: Richard Newton. Properties Designer: Karen S Leonard.

Cast: Edith: Skylar Rose Adams. Ruth Condomine: Maria Marquis. George Condomine: George Psarras. Dr. Bradman: Kyle Smith. Mrs. Bradman: Roneet Aliza Rahamem. Madame Arcati: Lisa Mallette. Elvira: Georgia Ball.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s