Review: Edison students conjure up smart, witty 'Blithe Spirit'

'Blithe Spirit' will run Nov. 8-11 & 14-17 at 8 p.m. with matinée performances on Sunday and Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Edison State College Black Box (L119-B). Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults and available online at: http://escblithe.brownpapertickets.com.

Photo courtesy Stuart Brown / Edison State College

"Blithe Spirit" will run Nov. 8-11 & 14-17 at 8 p.m. with matinée performances on Sunday and Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Edison State College Black Box (L119-B). Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults and available online at: http://escblithe.brownpapertickets.com.

"Blithe Spirit" will run Nov. 8-11 & 14-17 at 8 p.m. with matinée performances on Sunday and Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Edison State College Black Box (L119-B). Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults and available online at: escblithe.brownpapertickets.com.

Edison State College - Fort Myers Campus

8099 College Parkway SW, Fort Myers, FL

I've only seen one college production since starting my job as the Daily News theater critic. After taking in the Edison State College production of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" Thursday, I know I'll be seeing more. These young people impressed me. A lot. Kudos, congratulations and job well done.

Gulfshore Playhouse served up a lavish, splendid - if not outright definitive - version of "Blithe Spirit" in April 2011. Coward's fierce, witty dialogue and drier than dry verbiage (and martinis!) offers the perfect launching pad for actors looking to stretch their wings.

For the uninitiated, "Blight Spirit" follows British novelist Charles Condomine and his wife Ruth. Under pretense of research, Charles invites local medium Madame Arcati over for a seance; the charlatan manages to bring back the spirit of Condomine's first wife, a rather put-out Elvira. Ghostly first wife and hopping-mad second wife battle it out, with poor Charles in the middle!

If Edison's production doesn't match the professional polish of Florida Rep or Gulfshore Playhouse, it equals or surpasses a fair chunk of the amateur theater I've seen over the past four years. Alleged comedies have entertained me less - and drawn fewer laughs - than these bright young things.

Credit director Stuart Brown and a motley crew who have worked all semester to design, build, stage and present the show. Edison students created everything from sets to costumes to the sound design; their efforts prove worthy of praise.

Most importantly, Brown got his young cast to understand the real aim of Coward's words. "Blithe Spirit" is smart, intelligent comedy at its finest - and it must be played that way. Even with obvious jitters on opening night, actors struck bravely for the arch snobbery and affected mannerisms that characterize the show.

The show's second half, where the spirits really start to tangle, shines. The cast settles into their roles, gets loose and starts throwing the brilliant, chilly sentences with glee. This show is worth your $8 - seriously.

Two actors stand out. Steven Coe shines as the snarky Charles Condomine. Tuxedos and luxurious period clothes were made for waifs who wear the items as naturally as breathing; the actor sinks into the role as if he born a member of the landed gentry. Coe gets the tart tones of the words just right and proves a master of the stinging, waspish putdowns.

Danielle Sword vamps across the stage in a silver nightgown and sheer cape as Elvira. A Marilyn Monroe-esque hairstyle adds glamour, but the actress puts the sass on the lines herself. She brings the right amount of playful flintiness and petulant silliness to the role.

I do wish Brown had succeeded in pushing his cast even farther, or managed to convince them of the need to "go big or go home" in several roles. I can see glimpses in Jessica DeMarco's loopy spiritualist Madame Arcati or Ali Hooks's addled maid Edith. The show really isn't that subtle - outrageousness will earn laughs and help push the characters farther.

Don't be afraid to take chances. "Blithe Spirit" is a show about a dead wife materializing in front of her husband; reality-based this is not. Audiences want to laugh at this outrageousness - give them a reason to, whether it be costume, mannerism, set or delivery. Even the way the Condomines craaaack! their newspapers during a breakfast argument can bring laughs.

Much of the show's creative elements fall near parity with area community theaters, although the details prove tricky. David Meo's set (built by Christian Pardo) and color palette might be a touch too modern for the period. I also wish the patio doors - used to dramatic effect for entrances and exits by the spirit Elvira - had a more central location instead of their slightly out of view corner.

Zachary Boyce's imaginative costumes, likely assembled on little or no budget, capture the imagination. I love the sleek evening wear and an elegant saffron morning jacket for Coe. DeMarco's Arcati gets some bizarre vests and a too-modern (but still outrageous) bag that's big enough to hold 15 purse poodles. I might suggest a show-stopping hat and tons of cheap jewelry for Arcati too.

Makeup was not credited, but I urge students to reconsider the heavy white face powder for the spirits; it approaches Kabuki territory. Let your simple, regal costumes - the silver makes a nice change from the expected white - communicate the message. I love the hairstyles though.

"Blithe Spirit" will run Nov. 8-11 & 14-17 at 8 p.m. with matinée performances on Sunday and Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Edison State College Black Box (L119-B). Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults and available online at: http://escblithe.brownpapertickets.com.

Dry martini. Extra olives please. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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