Category: Archive

Coward’s rare medium

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Susan O’Connor was a familiar and frequently celebrated figure off-Broadway, particularly in productions of the difficult, demanding plays by the Irish-Canadian playwright Daniel McIvor. It was only a matter of time until she made the move to mainstream Broadway theater and gained the recognition she’s been due for so long.
Now O’Connor can be found eight times a week at the Shubert Theater, playing Edith, the supercharged English housemaid, in Michael Blakemore’s glossy revival of Noel Coward’s 1941 comic smash, “Blithe Spirit.”
The tiny O’Connor is holding her comedic own in the midst of a starry company made up of such glittering veterans as Angela Lansbury, Christine Ebersole, Rupert Everett, Jayne Atkinson, Simon Jones and Deborah Rush.
Although Coward reportedly dashed it off in something like seven wartime days, “Blithe Spirit” has proved durable enough to have spawned, after the advent of its now-classic film version, several television productions and countless revivals, including a mediocre Broadway musical version titled “High Spirits,” with Beatrice Lillie starring as Madame Arcati, the role being played so brilliantly this time out by Angela Lansbury, an actress as durable, and as riotous, as the play in which she’s currently appearing.
In creating Madame Arcati, the martini-loving local medium called in to solve some of the problems of the family at the center of the play, Coward gave the theater an unforgettable and richly enjoyable secondary character.
The British love their eccentrics, and without these loopy ladies, it’s very probable that neither play would have weathered the passing years nearly as well as they have. Without Madame Arcati, “Blithe Spirit” would almost surely have been dismissed as a wobbly but enjoyable comic trifle.
The hero, Charles Condomine, is a novelist who has arranged a s

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