February 19, 2001

Contact: Charla Jenkins, University Theatre, (785) 864-2684.

KU theatre conjures Noel Coward's comedy 'Blithe Spirit'

LAWRENCE -- Noel Coward's 1941 smash hit, "Blithe Spirit," will be staged by the University Theatre at the University of Kansas in early March. Performances of the witty comedy are at 7:30 p.m. March 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 11, in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre.

The KU production is being directed by Paul Meier, professor of theatre and film. Dennis Christilles, associate professor of theatre and film, is scenic designer, while Avraham Mor, Wilmette, Ill., junior, designs lights, and Jami Montroy, Lawrence senior, designs costumes. Emily Beste, Chicago junior, is sound designer, and Marianne Kubik, assistant professor of theatre and film, is period movement coach.

Meier describes "Blithe Spirit" as "a witty romp about love, death, and subconscious, ectoplasmic connections between the living and the dead."

Set in 1941 in Kent, England, southeast of London, the play is about a writer and his second wife who have invited two friends for dinner and a seance, which is to be conducted by a local medium. The host is doing research for a novel about spiritualism and hopes Madame Arcati will be a fraud, providing him with humorous material for his book.

After slamming down a few dry martinis and eating red meat, which she claims to be the wrong thing to do before a seance, Madame Arcati begins her excursion into the other world by contacting her ghostly control, a cantankerous child. When nothing much appears to happen, the dinner guests disperse, leaving the writer smugly satisfied that his suspicions about Madame Arcati were true. Then the ghost of his dead first wife appears and the fun begins.

Meier said that despite its age "Blithe Spirit" plays well in 2001 because the situation is fresh and the story is funny.

"It's about a love triangle. A man is in love with two women and one just happens to be a ghost. When the ghost appears, the husband is terrified, outraged, resistent to the whole idea. It's a life altering experience."

Coward, who had a great fascination with the occult, conceived of and wrote "Blithe Spirit" in just six days in May 1941 as a contribution to Great Britain's World War II effort. Within the month, the play was in production, and it opened in Manchester on June 16, 1941. By July 2, the play moved to London, where it ran for four and a half years and 1,997 performances, making it the longest running straight play in London theatre history until 1957 when Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap" surpassed its record.

Meier said his actors worked hard to find the real side of their funny characters and situations.

"When staging a farce, you have dig deep and find the inner substance of the characters; it's only funny if it's real," he said. "Comedies are often about people whose worlds are collapsing. In 'Blithe Spirit,' these people don't believe in ghosts, but they are forced to believe in ghosts."

To help the cast understand some of the ghostly situations in the play, Meier arranged for Anima Mundy, a psychic, to meet with the actors. And Mundy and several other local psychics will be on hand prior to each performance to give short psychic readings for audience members.

The play is being staged on a huge, bi-level set designed by Christilles.

"It's a big old English country farmhouse, just right for a ghost story," he said. "There are lots of special effects, tricks and stunts that are really fun."

The Friday, March 9, performance will be signed for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Reserved seat tickets for "Blithe Spirit" are on sale at the KU box offices: Murphy Hall, 864-3982; Lied Center, 864-ARTS; and SUA, 864 3477; and online at www.kutheatre.com. Tickets are $14 and $12 for the public, $7 and $6 for all students, and $13 and $11 for senior citizens. Both VISA and MasterCard are accepted for phone and online orders.

Members of the cast for the KU production of "Blithe Spirit" include (listed by name, class, parents' names, home address, and role):

JOHNSON COUNTY
From Lenexa
Kate Haugan, junior, daughter of Cindy Long, 12330 W. 85th, Violet Bradman.
From Overland Park
Rita DeLoach, junior, daughter of Ralph and Loretta DeLoach, 11200 Grandview, Elvira.

LEAVENWORTH COUNTY
From Lansing
Ginger Dee Bartkoski, senior, daughter of Terry and Janet Bartkoski, 605 Pine Ridge Court, Madame Arcati.

SEDGWICK COUNTY
From Wichita
John Buxton, senior, son of Steve and Sally Buxton, 5711 Kenawee, Charles Condomine.

(End Kansas)

CALIFORNIA
From Los Angeles
Charlie Hirsch, senior, son of Mr. and Mrs. James G. Hirsch, 1075 Casiano Road, Dr. Bradman.

MINNESOTA
From Eden Prairie
Mo Perry, sophomore, daughter of Deborah and Richard Perry, 11198 Burr Ridge Lane, Ruth Condomine.

NEW YORK
From Jamaica Estates
Geri Lisa Cohen, senior, daughter of David and Janet Cohen, 182-75 Avon Road, Edit

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