Artfully Edmonds review: A gravely impeccable reincarnation of ‘Blithe Spirit’

Melanie Calderwood, Caitlin Francis and Asa Sholdez in “Blithe Spirit.”

“Blithe Spirit”, now playing at The Phoenix Theatre, brought out a crowd of spirited well-wishers for Friday’s opening night. Noel Coward’s 1941 British comedy about matters concerning The Other Side of the grave couldn’t be a better selection for this time of year.

Known for its motto, “comedy without all the drama,” The Phoenix Theatre revels in farcical humor, pranks, slapstick, parodies, and more. Eric Lewis skillfully directs the play’s six actors in this production, capitalizing on the space of the intimate stage, which seems perfectly suited for this cast – a mix of fresh faces and popular Phoenix veterans.

Following a welcome from Christine Mosere, managing director, the house was shrouded in darkness and mischievous forces took over.

Coward’s play about death, love and longing, focuses on novelist Charles Condomine (played by Asa Sholdez), who has invited eccentric medium Madame Arcati (played by Melanie Calderwood) to his house to conduct a séance, hoping to gather material for his next book. The séance is attended by Condomine’s current wife Ruth (Elizabeth Adkisson) and Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Keith Dahlgren and Vicki Lynn Maxey, respectively).

Theatregoers welcomed to The Phoenix stage Elizabeth Adkisson, whose presence is matched by her striking elegance. She made her Phoenix entrance in a gown to die for, accessorized by gorgeous jewelry befitting her station as the wife of a wealthy socialite. Whether center stage – or not – Adkisson was drop-dead gorgeous in a wardrobe selected by Arin Larson. “Blithe Spirit” is Arin’s first costume manager stint at The Phoenix and she showed her acumen for the history of fashion with her wardrobe selections.

Sholdez was perfect in the role of Charles Condomine, pouring Britian’s driest martinis – cool, calm, and collected – that is, until “a certain moment” when his unraveling begins. A seasoned veteran of the theatre Sholdez managed the role of Charles Condomine and its range with the cleverest skill whether succumbing, or standing up to, the whims and willfulness of two wives – oh the horror!

The first laugh of the night went to Rebekah Dawn as her character Edith tries out her new job as the Condomine’s maid displaying the style of a drill sergeant in some scenes, and a scampering little mouse in others. The audience didn’t mind showing their amusement at Edith’s attempts to “get it right” as a maid in the proper Condomine household.

Then, the Phoenix really took flight. Melanie Calderwood entered the scene as Madame Arcati and fans stomped, cheered, and lost all British (and for that matter, Edmonds’) decorum. Getting a chance to gaze upon Madame’s feathered, glittered, outrageous turban was worth the price of admission, I guarantee. Calderwood has theatre talent that rises to the quality of Carol Burnett. It is no wonder that she has such a loyal following. Admirers make no secret of their pure adoration for her as she twirls, stumbles, mimes, drops to the floor, allows herself to be poked, nudged, and pinched – if that’s what will bring out a laugh from the audience.

Dr. Bradman and Mrs. Bradman played their hand well as the dinner party guests of the Condomine’s – with the good doctor being, seemingly, everyone’s personal physician. The couple’s lines were well-delivered, impeccable timing and every bit British. The Bradman’s were perfect foils and wonderful as supporting cast. With a theatre career that began in 1978 I would expect Keith Dahlgren to expand his portfolio to include more Phoenix Theatre roles. Vicki Lynn Maxey’s performance was perfection, and her vitae is filled with impressive TV, film and stage roles. Notable was her timing and dialogue. She played the perfect confidante, not saying too much – verbally – while her expressions and mannerisms led the audience on a merry chase of innuendos.

Then, as expected, Death blows in during the séance taking the form of Charles Condomine’s late wife Elvira who arrives in a seductive gossamer white for a second engagement in Condomine’s life. Caitlin Frances plays Elvira with impish impertinence, mockery, feigned innocence, and sultry seduction. The actress’ range is star-quality impressive. Her entrance onto The Phoenix Theatre stage is like . . . a breath of fresh air.

No detail was overlooked in lighting design (Linda Currey) or sound design (Megan McKay). Getting it wrong in the “eerie staging department” can bury an ethereal production. But, Currey and McKay proved their skill and experience as the mood was set with perfection.

All in all,“Blithe Spirit” was dead-on successful. Wicked fun inspired by a skilled director who knows theatre on a professional quality level. Congratulations are due the cast, director, crew, and house management for spirited good show.

Gala scheduled Thursday, Nov. 13
The Phoenix Company took the opportunity to remind the audience of its upcoming Desert Gala and fundraiser scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 13. The festivities will take place at Edmonds Center for The Arts. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased at the box office, 9673 Firdale Ave., or by calling 206-533-2000.

— By Emily Hill

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