Last chance to see “Blithe Spirit” at the Ahmanson

If you’re still wondering where poor Lady Edith’s lover, Michael Gregson is, well, we have him, but only until this weekend.  Charles Edwards who plays the publisher and editor of the society magazine “The Sketch” on Downton Abbey is currently the lead actor in “Blithe Spirit,” a production that features multiple Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury.

Gregson was caught in a troublesome, but morally grey love triangle. His wife was insane in that Jane Eyre way, but safely locked up in an asylum. He was in love with Edith and unwisely forgot to use birth control, leaving Edith with a baby and tottering on maternal stalkerhood and social scandal.

In “Blithe Spirit,” Edwards’ character, a successful novelist named Charles Condomine,  decides to meddle in the spiritual world on a lark. He wants to find material for a future novel and invites Madame Arcati (Lansbury) to hold a seance only to find himself caught between his current wife Ruth (Charlotte Parry) and the spirit of his late wife, Elvira (Elvira). The ladies aren’t willing to share.

As one would expect in a city full of actors, Lansbury’s entrance receives an appreciative round of clapping and she doesn’t disappoint. Her Madame Arcati could be the object of ridicule, as is the original intent of Charles, but she shows herself to be good-natured and practical.

Lansbury won her first Tony in 1966 for “Mame.” That was followed by “Dear World” (1968), “Gypsy” (1974) and “Sweeney Todd” (1979). Then she dallied in TV to star in the longest-running detective drama series “Murder, She Wrote” from 1984-1996 and received four Golden Globes. Her 2009 portrayal of Madame Arcati earned her a fifth Tony. She also has  a Lifetime Achievement Oscar (2013 after three nominations) and last year she was named a Dame of the English Empire.

Edwards originated the role of Bertie in the West End production of “The King’s Speech” and on Broadway he portrayed Richard Hannay in the Tony Award-winning production of “The 39 Steps,” having originated the role in London.

Jemima Rooper makes for a vivacious and lustful Elvira while Parry’s Ruth is definitely a woman who prefers a controlled environment. Rooper’s Elvira is a charming, deceptive creature with earthy passions even at a time when she has no real earthly presence. She’s more lively than the restrained Ruth that Parry makes more respectable than likable.

Directed by Michael Blakemore, this revival of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” has the style and grace of another era and abundant wit.

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, then you’ll especially appreciate this comedy of manners accompanied by witty sniping–even more so if you watched the special specifically on Downton Abbey and manners. The Condomines are not aristocracy like the Crawleys, but they do aspire to a high society country life.

The title of the play is taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem: “To the Skylark.”

Fans of Angela Lansbury and Downtown Abbey and Noel Coward, this is a must-see and you only have until the end of the weekend to see it. “Blithe Spirit ends its run on 18 January 2015 at that Ahmanson.

         Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
                Bird thou never wert,
         That from Heaven, or near it,
                Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.


         Higher still and higher
                From the earth thou springest
         Like a cloud of fire;
                The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.


         In the golden lightning
                Of the sunken sun,
         O’er which clouds are bright’ning,
                Thou dost float and run;
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.


         The pale purple even
                Melts around thy flight;
         Like a star of Heaven,
                In the broad day-light
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight,


         Keen as are the arrows
                Of that silver sphere,
         Whose intense lamp narrows
                In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.


         All the earth and air
                With thy voice is loud,
         As, when night is bare,
                From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and Heaven is overflow’d.


         What thou art we know not;
                What is most like thee?
         From rainbow clouds there flow not
                Drops so bright to see
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.


         Like a Poet hidden
                In the light of thought,
         Singing hymns unbidden,
                Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:


         Like a high-born maiden
                In a palace-tower,
         Soothing her love-laden
                Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:


         Like a glow-worm golden
                In a dell of dew,
         Scattering unbeholden
                Its a{:e}real hue
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:


         Like a rose embower’d
                In its own green leaves,
         By warm winds deflower’d,
                Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-winged thieves:


         Sound of vernal showers
                On the twinkling grass,
         Rain-awaken’d flowers,
                All that ever was
Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.


         Teach us, Sprite or Bird,
                What sweet thoughts are thine:
         I have never heard
                Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.


         Chorus Hymeneal,
                Or triumphal chant,
         Match’d with thine would be all
                But an empty vaunt,
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.


         What objects are the fountains
                Of thy happy strain?
         What fields, or waves, or mountains?
                What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?


         With thy clear keen joyance
                Languor cannot be:
         Shadow of annoyance
                Never came near thee:
Thou lovest: but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety.


         Waking or asleep,
                Thou of death must deem
         Things more true and deep
                Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?


         We look before and after,
                And pine for what is not:
         Our sincerest laughter
                With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.


         Yet if we could scorn
                Hate, and pride, and fear;
         If we were things born
                Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.


         Better than all measures
                Of delightful sound,
         Better than all treasures
                That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!


         Teach me half the gladness
                That thy brain must know,
         Such harmonious madness
                From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.



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