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Spirited Away

Knock 'Em Dead scares up good times with Blithe Spirit


Halloween may be long gone, but Elvira is never far from scaring up a little mischief.

No, it's not "Mistress of the Dark" Cassandra Peterson of whom I speak, but that other Elvira--the one immortalized by the late great playwright Noel Coward in Blithe Spirit, the charming 1941 comedy currently playing for three more weekends at Knock 'Em Dead Dinner Theater.

The play takes us into the home of British writer Charles Condomine (Justin Marshall Tharpe) and his wife Ruth (Mary McGreaham), a well-to-do, slightly snobbish couple with few troubles--aside from a high-spirited maid (Kenna Marks), who runs about the house like a horse spooked by lightning.

Their lives take a decided downturn, though, after a dinner party séance reincarnates Charles' deceased wife Elvira (RaDawn Smythe), who claims she only appeared because Charles had subconsciously longed for her return. This, of course, does not sit well with Ruth, particularly since she can't even see Elvira and believes that Charles has fabricated the whole story to simply have some fun with her.

What follows is nearly three hours of merriment as the threesome exchange amusing insults, intertwined with nostalgic recollections of better times--which no doubt resonated greatly with a 1940s British audience facing a possible Nazi invasion.

Adding to the chaos are Madame Arcati (Bea Eichmann Allen), the barmy medium who conjures up Elvira; and the Bradmans (David Scott and Barbara Beautrow), married friends of the Condomines who show up to participate in the séance.

Scott, a KED regular, manages a memorable turn without much dialogue. His Dr. Bradman (a role this writer once played) is a stuffed shirt indeed, scoffing and rolling his eyes at the seeming ludicrousness of the evening's proceedings, while Beautrow seamlessly creates a character of the deepest emptiness, betraying wide-eyed astonishment at everything unfolding before her.

Allen excels in arguably the play's most flamboyant role, waving her arms and pirouetting about the room like a possessed circus clown as her Madame Arcati swoons in and out of trances--but not allowing the situation to interfere with her penchant for pinching cucumber sandwiches.

Smythe delights as the impish Elvira, gliding about the stage in an almost ethereal manner, both vamping and pouting when appropriate. Marks has obvious fun skipping about as the overeager maid, Edith.

What really makes Blithe Spirit shine, though, is the chemistry between Tharpe and McGreaham. Tharpe's gradual, hilarious descent into semi-insanity is matched only by McGreaham's equally steady, humorous rise into fury as her layers of refinement peel away. Together, the pair serve up a hearty plate of mirth.

Taking a breather from his usual diet of musicals, director Scott Beseman serves up this crowd pleaser with his usual dead-on attention to set detail--fireplace, bookshelf, portraits, light fixtures and veranda all beautifully establishing the mood. Costumes, too, are first rate, though the choice to put Smythe in an unflattering gray wig as the fetching Elvira might leave some scratching their heads.

On the menu:

• Ensalada Simplese

• Roast Beef in Madeira Sauce

• Rice Pilaf/Peas Almondine & Parker House Roll with Butter

• Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Blithe Spirit

Written by Noel Coward

Directed for KED by Scott Beseman

Thur.-Sat., February 23-March 11

Knock 'Em Dead Dinner Theatre, 333 S. 9th St.

For more information or tickets, call 385-0021.

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