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Blithe Spirit finds new life in local production 

To celebrate the start of its 50th season, McKeesport Little Theater has selected a play even older than itself, but just as sturdy. Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit (1941) finds new life with broader comedy and more sexual tension under the direction of local playwright F.J. Hartland.

This classic comedy of manners provides a showcase for actresses and for the backstage crew. The latter supply the necessary business to suggest the movements and havoc wrought by unseen spirits, while the former chew what scenery is left. Dorothy Fallows, also president of the theater's board of directors, fills the stage as the wildly eccentric medium (thank you, costume designer Cindy McGovern, for those hats). Madame Arcati is perhaps one screech short of going over the top, but she's certainly memorable.

The amazingly wide-eyed Sara Fisher accentuates the physicality of the overwhelmed skivvy, Edith. Ellen Ulmer gives the small role of a large wife more than just the obvious joke about stature opposite Sean Butler, as her doctor husband. And then there are the wives. Maggie Mayer mixes arrogance, disdain, sensuality and total amorality as the dead Elvira. In the often-thankless role of current wife Ruth, Ellen Small perseveres.

In the midst of all this seething femininity, T.C. Brown exudes urbaneness with an understated but elegant eroticism. His Charles is a metrosexual from long before the word was invented.

While one could quibble with slight anachronisms (like substituting LPs for real 78 rpm records), the production evokes the period, pleasantly and prettily. Director Hartland deserves further applause for the collaborative set design with stage manager Rose Miller. In a small company, everybody does more than one thing -- credit Miller with props, and Bob Miller for set assistant and props. And let us not forget the lights: design by George Schlicht, and technician Bobby Fisher (who handles sound, too).

A reliable warhorse of froth and fun, Blithe Spirit gets an entertaining workout at McKeesport.

 

Blithe Spirit continues through Sun., March 27. McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St., McKeesport. 412-673-1100 or www.mckeesportlittletheater.com

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