This is an archived article.

February 12, 2009

A funny look at the afterlife in Noel Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit’

The UW School of Drama presents Blithe Spirit, a riotous look at the afterlife by Noel Coward, from Feb. 18 to March 1 in the Penthouse Theatre. Preview performances are scheduled for Feb. 15 and 17.


The play centers on Charles, who, while collecting material on the occult for his new novel, invites medium Madame Acarti to hold a seance in his house. Along with their equally skeptical dinner guests, Charles and his wife Ruth help Madame Acarti communicate with the other side. Charles is convinced that it’s nothing more than an amusing performance — that is until he begins to hear the voice of his departed first wife Elvira, who passed on over seven years ago.


Even more surprising is that when Elvira herself appears, only Charles can see or hear her. Now he must convince Ruth that he isn’t going mad or playing a bad joke. It later becomes obvious that Elvira hasn’t lost any of her mischievous ways; in fact she’s plotting for Charles to have an accident so they can be together again in the afterlife! However, it’s Ruth who falls victim to

Elvira’s plan, leaving Charles with two dead wives who can neither get along nor go away. Only the help of eccentric Madame Acarti can send the bickering duo back where they belong.


Blithe Spirit was written in 1941, during the dark days of World War II,” said the play’s director, Scott Hafso, “and Coward considered it a gift of laughter to a beleaguered, war-weary London. Making no reference to the war that raged around them, Coward’s sparkling farce offered the theater-going public a night off from the troubles of their daily lives, and a chance to escape into what Coward called ‘a house of strange enchantment, a temple of illusion.’”


Coward was born the poor son of an unsuccessful piano salesman, but that didn’t stop him from working his way to celebrity status. He began his acting career at the age of 12, performing in several children’s plays including two West End productions of Peter Pan. By age 21 he had his first full-length play produced.


After a stint in the U.S. Coward returned to London where he wrote, directed and starred in the highly controversial and successful play The Vortex. After that, Coward turned out numerous productions including a comedy, Hay Fever, and an operetta, Bittersweet. When WWII broke out, Coward traveled entertaining troops and served as a secret agent.


Coward’s career works include more than 50 published plays, several albums of original songs, short stories, and three volumes of autobiography.


Hafso is the speech and singing instructor for the UW’s Professional Actor Training Program. He has worked as a director, musical director, conductor, voice teacher and performer. A playwright and composer, he received an MFA in Playwriting from the UW School of Drama and a Master of Music from the UW School of Music. He created and directed the review ‘S Wonderful: The Music of Gershwin and Porter, as well as a stage musical adaptation of the film Joe vs. the Volcano.


Tickets for Blithe Spirit are $15 for regular performances. UW faculty and staff pay $13, seniors $12 and students $10. Previews are $8 for everyone. Tickets can be purchased from the Arts Ticket Office, 206-543-4880 and at www.drama.washington.edu.