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British Comedy comes to ND

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It’s what writer Noël Coward called a “farce in three acts.” It’s the story of a séance that actually went right, then went horribly wrong. It’s the story of a violent love triangle. It’s the comic play being put on by the Department of Film, Television and Theatre at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) tonight through Sunday.
Jay Skelton, an assistant professor in the Department, is the director of this witty British comedy, “Blithe Spirit,” in which novelist Charles Condomine, played by Ryan Belock, wishes to learn about the occult for his latest project. He and his wife invite friends and a quirky psychic to their home to hold a séance. Hilarity ensues when eccentric medium Madame Arcati, played by Shay Thornton, actually manages to bring Charles’s first wife Elvira, played by Sloan Thacker, back from the dead. It’s bad news for current wife Ruth, played by Clare Cooney, who finds herself beset by an invisible nemesis, still jealous though she no longer holds human form. The comedic journey through this world and the next is a comedy classic.
The play appeals to a broad range of audiences and promises to be an enjoyable evening for all. From its beginning in 1941, the play provoked controversy. Coward wrote the play during the Second World War in an attempt to lighten the hearts and minds of the beleaguered Brits, but many thought he might be making fun of death at the height of the war. Objections, however, quickly fell to the wayside as the play went on to set British box-office records. Its run of 1,997 consecutive performances set a record for non-musical plays in the West End, held intact until “Boeing Boeing” in the 1970s.
The actors in this performance said they had a great time putting on the play, which helps bring extra emotion and zeal to their already marvelous performance.
Belock, who plays protagonist Charles, said he found this production one of the “most rewarding theatre experiences.”
“We adopted a new vocabulary, a new accent and a new look,” he said.
All of this is evident in the cast’s beautiful performance, complete with zinging lines and upbeat humor.
Clara Ritger plays gossiping dinner guest Mrs. Bradman. She said she also enjoyed working with the “stellar cast” of the play, a statement echoed by Thornton, portrayer of Madame Arcati.
Ritger said she loves that Coward “poured humanity into his characters, which is not usually what you’d expect in a farce.”
“You’re able to laugh at the sheer absurdity of the plot and utter truth of the situation,” she said.
It’s the humanity in the play that really helps to draw in the viewer, helping them relate to the characters while keeping them hooked with the comic aspect.
Director Jay Skelton was also instrumental in making this comedic masterpiece come to fruition. Over the last 18 years, Skelton has directed, written or produced more than 90 plays, musicals or operas in the Chicago, New York and Boston areas, and it is an honor to have such an esteemed thespian at Notre Dame.
Belock and the other actors had nothing but glowing compliments for Skelton, saying that he has worked incredibly hard to “fully capture the sophisticated world of this play.”
We may finally be leaving winter behind us, but we could all still use some laughs in our lives this week, and the play promises to deliver quite a few hearty chuckles and more, in British accents nonetheless. So make your way to DPAC to enjoy the fantastic work that the Film, Television and Theatre department is doing. The play is at 7:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday, and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Decio Mainstage. Tickets are $15 for regular admission, $12 for faculty, staff and seniors and $10 for students.