Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: Blithe Spirit

Christine Ebersole, Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett and Jayne Atkinson.

Lansbury Leads a Spirited Ensemble
By Lauren Yarger
Angela Lansbury’s charming performance as a medium who calls up the naughty spirit of a widower’s wife head a strong cast in a top-notch revival of Noel Coward’s comedy Blithe Spirit playing on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre.

Lansbury is Madame Arcati, an eccentric medium of questionable abilities, who is invited to perform a séance at the Kent, England country home of Ruth (Jayne Atkinson) and Charles Condomine (Rupert Everett, who gives an engaging performance), an author who hopes to glean some character attributes for a murder mystery he’s writing about a medium. The other dinner party guests are Dr. Bradman (Simon Jones), the family physician and his wife (Deborah Rush) and, thanks to Madame Arcati’s unexpected success, Elvira (Christine Ebersole), the spirit of Charles’ deceased wife.

Elvira is a high-spirited spirit and trouble and comedic misunderstandings ensue as she attempts to monopolize Charles’ affections while infuriating Ruth and scaring the daylights out of Edith (Susan Louise O’Connor, making an impressive Broadway debut), the Condomine’s poor, timid maid.

At first, Charles, who is the only one who can see Elvira, gives in to her whims. Ruth eventually believes Charles’ rantings and orders Madame Arcati to “dematerialize” the unwanted ghost, who seems in no hurry to leave. Madame refuses and as the plot thickens, Ruth becomes convinced that Elvira is trying to kill Charles so that she can be with him permanently – on the other side.

Director Michael Blakemore elicits just the right balance of zaniness and expert timing from the ensemble (Edith’s kowtowed running to and fro and her clearing of the tea items is a comedy in itself). Lansbury is a treat (and if you haven’t seen her in person, don’t miss this opportunity) as she gives a delightfully funny performance. The medium’s unmasked loathing of Mrs. Bradman’s questions and Lansbury's quirky little dance ritual before going into a trance are guffaw-inducing.

Atkinson shines as the wife trying to be supportive while trying to make sense of three-way conversations in which she assumes Charles’ comments to Elvira have been directed to her. She also makes a worthy adversary for Ebersole’s vampy Elvira, with whom she ends up joining forces in an amusing plot twist.

Ebersole plays up the bratty, spoiled Elvira, breezing around the stage in Martin Pakledinazphantasmically flowing costume. Sets, prone to poltergeist activity and designed by Peter J. Davidson, are lighted by Brian MacDevitt. Period music (Peter Fitzgerald) and projected scene change cards (Steven Zweigbaum) enhance the mood.

Blithe Spirit plays at the Shubert Theatre, 225 w. 44th St., New York. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250 or by visiting

Christian might also like to know:
• Occult: There’s a séance, a crystal ball, ghosts and poltergeist activity and the medium totes a Ouija board for good measure.
• Language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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