After six weeks of rehearsals, the Golden Chain Theatre’s production of Noel Coward’s spooky comedy “Blithe Spirit” opens Friday night.
The humorous ghostly tale, rated PG and directed by Sarah Persson, is about Charles Condomine (Matt Van De Wal), a successful novelist, his charming, strong-willed second wife Ruth (Miranda Simonich), and the ghost of his deceased first wife, Elvira (Lyric Piccolotti).
In order to conduct research for his latest book, Charles invites medium Madame Arcati (Mary Helen Mierkey), to perform a seance at his home and the psychic mistakenly summons the ghost of his deceased wife Elvira - a ghost that only Charles can see.
To witness this event, Charles and Ruth invite the skeptical Dr. Bradman (Leonard Brown) and his anxious-to-believe wife, Violet (Jennifer Olsen). What follows is a darkly funny competition between the two women - one dead - one alive - thanks to Madame Arcati.
“I love playing this role because Madame Arcati is eccentric, funny and enjoys living her life to the fullest,” Mierkey said. “It’s a role full of emotion and quirkiness. Underneath it all though I think Madame Arcati really does want to help people in her own goofy way.”
Mierkey feels honored that she gets to speak the same lines that Angela Lansbury spoke when the play was on Broadway.
“What a privilege to be a part of a long history of noted actresses who have given life to this role, including Lansbury,” Mierkey said. “I have a responsibility to make the role my own, and at the same time I want it to be a reflection of the quality theater we are working to present to our community.”
Prior to “Blithe Spirit,” Simonich played Clarice in “Bertha the Beautiful Typewriter Girl,” Vera in “The Odd Couple,” Annelle in “Steel Magnolias” and appeared in “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Believe in Christmas.”
“What I like about playing Ruth in “Blithe Spirit” is that she is very different from the other roles I’ve had,” Simonich said. “She is a strong willed and confident woman who likes things to be just so, while Elvira, who is Ruth’s polar opposite, materializing after the seance and flips Ruth’s whole world on it’s head. Since Ruth can’t see or hear Elvira, her only interactions with her are through Charles, and the whole situation, as you can imagine, puts a serious strain on their marriage.”
Piccolotti, the youngest cast member at 19, has a large resume at the GCT. She recently played played a coal miner’s daughter in “Males Order Brides,” a pregnant redneck with seven children in “Dearly Departed,” a greaser bad-boy in “Shake,” Hodel in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Shelby in “Steel Magnolias,” a mafia grandmother in “The Altos,” and the lead role of Willy in “Willy Wonka.”
“Elvira is definitely one of the more feminine, alluring characters I’ve played ... which normally isn’t my cup of tea, but I’ve found this role to be quite enjoyable considering she’s much more sophisticated than your run of the mill heroine archetype, which I avoid like the plague,” said the Minarets High School graduate.
Piccolotti explained that her character is a mixture of childish naivety and sultry cunning.
“It’s a little difficult to find a balance between the two in certain scenes since Elvira’s personality tends to contradict itself,” Piccolotti said. “I just hope I’m able to pull it together by Friday night. I wouldn’t want my performance to be as dead as the woman I’m portraying.”
Piccolotti feels it is Noel Coward’s wit that makes the play so entertaining. “Although it has to be preformed right or it comes off a little dry for some people. I’ve seen several versions that were much too slow, I think it was just because of the time period that they were performed. I hope we do his literary masterpiece some justice.”
Director Persson said the first time she read the script she knew “Blithe Spirit” was going to be a special show.
“The biggest challenge was figuring out how to pull some amazing special effects in this show ... from books flying off the shelves to tables shaking, but thanks to George Rich’s dedication and hard work we have achieved something really special,” Persson said. “There’s a lot to prepare for with this show. Not only do the actors have to prepare, but the backstage crew for this one has more to do than usual. The special effects are a big part and things need to be spot on. In the end I hope the audience has as much fun watching the show as we have had putting it all together.”
Persson said she loves shows that combine humor, mystery and drama. “And ‘Blithe Spirit’ encompasses all three beautifully,” Persson said with pride.
Details: “Blithe Spirit”: 7 p.m., Sept. 23, 24, 30, Oct. 1, 7, 8 - 2 p.m., Sept. 25, Oct. 2, 9. Tickets $8 - $15. Group rates available. www.goldenchaintheatre.org , (559) 683-7112 Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m..