Category Archive for: ‘Flora Lynn Isaacson’


A “Spirited” Comedy by Noel Coward at Cal Shakes

Domenique Lozano as Madame Arcati and Jessica Kitchens as Elvira Condomine in Cal Shakes’ production of BLITHE SPIRIT, directed by Mark Rucker; photo by Kevin Berne


California Shakespeare Theatre continues its 39th season with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit directed by ACT Associate Artistic Director and Cal Shakes Associate Artist Mark Rucker.

Charles Condomine (Anthony Fusco), a successful novelist, wishes to learn about the occult for a novel he is writing, and he arranges for the eccentric medium, Madame Arcati (Domenique Lozano) to hold a seance at his house.  At the seance, she immediately summons Charles’ first wife, Elvira (Jessica Kitchens), who has been dead seven years.  Madame Arcati leaves after the seance unaware that she has summoned Elvira.  Only Charles can see or hear Elvira, and his second wife, Ruth (Rene Augesen) does not believe that Elvira exists until a floating vase is handed to her out of the air.   The ghostly Elvira makes continued and increasingly desperate efforts to disrupt Charles’ current marriage.  She finally sabotages his car in the hope of killing him so he can join her in the spirit world, but it is Ruth rather than Charles who drives off and is killed.

Ruth’s ghost immediately comes back for revenge on Elvira and though Charles cannot, at first, see Ruth, he can see that Elvira is being chased and tormented and his house is in an uproar.  He calls Madame Arcati back to exorcise both of the spirits, but instead of banishing them, she materializes Ruth.  With both of his dead wives now fully visible, and neither of them in the best of tempers, Charles, together with Madame Arcati, goes through seance after seance and spell after spell to try to exorcise them and at last, Madame Arcati succeeds.  Charles is left seemingly in peace, but Madame Arcati, hinting that the ghosts may still be around unseen, warns him that he should go away as soon as possible. Charles leaves at once, and the unseen ghosts throw things and destroy the room as soon as he goes.

Noel Coward has such a good time making mischief with marriage and mediums, and Director Mark Rucker does nothing to interfere with the fun.  His light touch has given the actors freedom to spirit themselves around Annie Smart’s spacious, upscale living room and creates a delicious souffle of a play.  Six of Rucker’s seven actors are from ACT.  Anthony Fusco, a regular at Cal Shakes plays Charles as a self-absorbed, upper-class, witty novelist.  Rene Augesen portrays Ruth as rather staid and conventional, while Jessica Kitchens is both sexy and kittenish as Elvira.

Domenique Lozano as Madame Arcati practically steals the show making a real person out of her boisterous character being aided by Katherine Roth’s wonderful costumes. Rounding out the cast are Kevin Rolston as Doctor Bradman and Melissa Smith as Mrs. Bradman, Charles’ seance companions.  Rebekah Brockman is absolutely wonderful as Edith, Charles’ dim-witted maid.

A large part of what makes this production so successful is how well spoken all of the actors are.  Their British accents are accurate, their diction precise and their voices commanding.  Even though Coward wrote Blithe Spirit during England’s battle scarred year of 1941, this play still feels fresh today.

Blithe Spirit will run at California Shakespeare Theatre August 8-September 7 at Bruns Amphitheatre, 100 California Shakespeare Theatre Way, Orinda, CA.  For tickets, call the box office at 510-548-9666 or go online at

Coming up next at Cal Shakes will be William Shakespeare’s Hamlet directed by Liesl Tommy from September 19-October 14, 2012.

Flora Lynn Isaacson