THEATER REVIEW : Accent on the English in Santa Paula : The first of two near-concurrent productions of the Noel Coward play in Ventura County opened last week.


A classic English play from the early '40s, "Blithe Spirit," is constantly in production somewhere. No wonder: The Noel Coward play is funny, more or less timeless, fraught with special effects, and gives everybody on stage a chance to show off his or her version of an English accent.

The first of two near-concurrent productions in Ventura County opened last week at the Santa Paula Theater Center; another will open July 31 at the Faye Renee Dinner Theater in Camarillo. Judging from the Santa Paula production, the Camarillo players face a real challenge.

"Blithe Spirit" is a ghost story. Writer Charles Condomine, a disbeliever in spiritualism, arranges a seance with local medium Mme. Arcati, studying what he considers to be her tricks for use in a novel. Unfortunately, this rare medium's work turns out to be too well done, and up pops the spirit of Charles' first wife, Elvira--to Charles' discomfort and his present wife's extreme displeasure.

High jinks ensue.

Director Patricia Lynn-Strickland, responsible for the Plaza Players' fine recent version of "Mornings at Seven," has again come up with a capable cast. Taylor Kasch, drama instructor at the Happy Valley School and director-star of the recent production of Beatrice Wood's "Torch in the Sky," stars as the snobbish author Charles, with Doreen Lacy and Linda Livingston as his ghostly first wife and very much alive second wife, respectively. Dorothy Scott plays the slightly dizzy Mme. Arcati; Paula Maxwell appears as the eager-to-please maid, Edith, and Mark Halstead and Camille La Fredo co-star as friends of the Condomines who participate in the seance.

Last Saturday's show proceeded pretty much by the numbers--timing is essential for farce--after a rocky beginning, where some of the participants seemed (nervously?) to be racing for the end of the play at the cost of Coward's rich language.

The characters who are comic focal points are the carefree, teasing and malevolent Elvira; somewhat confused Mme Arcati, and extremely confused Edith.

Each is pleasingly played, though Elvira's free-spiritedness would probably tend to grate after a few hours, and one might wonder how the bumbling Edith manages to keep her job (or why, during the first act, she stoops like a high school student trying to appear aged in a play).

Fred Strickland and William Orcutt are credited with designing the sumptuous set, and Sabrina Wilson gets credit for the costumes. The low-budget special effects are handled nicely and effectively, though it's somewhat (you should pardon the expression) dispiriting to think that, upon dying, one is fit with a ghastly blonde wig and powder-blue negligee. Oh well, at least everybody gets to choose his or her own shoes.


"Blithe Spirit" continues through Aug. 22 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. 7th St. in Santa Paula. Performances are Thursday through Saturday nights at 8, with Sunday matinees at 2:30. Tickets are $12.50, $10 for seniors and $8 for students, with group rates available. For reservations or further information, call 525-4645.

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