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Noël Coward's 'Blithe Spirit' at SOU

The Theatre Arts program at Southern Oregon University will present "Blithe Spirit," by Noël Coward, directed by Dale Luciano, opening Nov. 12. "Coward called it an improbable farce," Luciano says. "The play's relationships are examined in terms of what would have happened if it were real."

The classic mid-20th century comedy mocks the traditions of love and marriage. Novelist and socialite Charles Condomine unintentionally calls up the ghost of his first wife when he visits the "happy medium" Madame Arcati. As Elvira infiltrates the lives of Charles and his second wife, Ruth, things get vexing.

There will be 8 p.m. shows Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday, November 21 and 22.

Luciano says that on the surface, the play is about the comfortable marriage of Charles and Ruth Condomine, with a façade of pleasantry and wit. Its charming and somewhat self-absorbed people are living comfortably. But beneath the surface is Coward's rumination on the innate difficulty of male and female relationships.

"As the play's complications develop, these characters say and do extraordinarily cruel things to one another," Luciano says, "but they do it with such finesse and wit that there's an enormous, ironic chasm between what's being said and how it's being said."

Coward was knighted in 1969 and received a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in 1970. Besides writing more than 50 plays and a dozen musical theater pieces, he acted on the stage and in film for more than 60 years.

Angela Lansbury recently starred on Broadway in a production of "Blithe Spirit," and other productions are popping up. Does that suggest that in tough times, people want polished, escapist entertainment, as with the screwball comedies of the 1930s?

"Maybe," Luciano says. "Coward did write it in 1941 to boost morale. England was at war. It ran three years in London's West End."

He notes that the play's title can be taken as a reference to Elvira, but it also suggests Coward's lack of concern for many of life's travails. He says his students approached it as they do any play, contemporary or classic.

"We figure what the characters' objectives are, and what the obstacles are," he says. "You have this grand complication of somebody returning from the other side."

Luciano teaches directing, theater history and iconography in SOU's Theatre Arts program. He has directed a production for SOU every year since 1985, including the 2009 production of William Shakespeare's "Love's Labor's Lost."

Assistant director is Curtis Goodman. Costume design is by Caitlin Bedford, scenic design by Andy Zehrung, lighting design by Kristin Lake, and sound design by Robert Erickson. The stage manager is Jamie Thomas.

Subscribers to three or more plays in SOU's six-play season receive a discounted rate of $16 on general admission and $14 on senior tickets.

Coward is thought to have written the play very quickly.

"It does have some depth to it," Luciano says. "Edward Albee said he was a great craftsman."

Left to right: Jordan Leigh Wakefield, Jonathan Dryud and Monique Barbee appear in the Southern Oregon University production of Noël Coward's “Blithe Spirit.” - Photo by Darek Riley