Manchester University
Oak Leaves

April 21, 2017

Blithe Spirit

Kathy Hawkins and junior music major Clayton Marcum perform in "Blithe Spirit."

'Blithe Spirit' Succeeds with Acting, Costumes

Destinee Boutwell

Manchester University students brought new life to the 1940s British play “Blithe Spirit” on April 7-9. The haunting plot and ghostly cast were set in contrast to witty and humorous banter between the characters that kept the audience engaged and entertained.
The play was directed by Kira Hawkins with assistance from sophomore Hannah Wales. Wales has been a cast member in many plays before this including “Into the Woods” and “The Wizard of Oz,” but this year she decided to try working on a different side of the stage. “I was asked to help direct this play and I thought it would be interesting to get a look at a new side of theater,” she said. “It started off as a casual interest, but I began getting more involved with Kira and the cast and now it is a new passion. I loved being able to watch the production grow and evolve.” 

Hawkins and Wales’ collaboration was a success because the play was fantastically casted, beautifully staged and creatively costumed. “The cast had a lot of energy and you could tell that they were passionate and thrilled to be part of the experience,” Wales said. “The hardest part of being assistant director was making sure things got done, but also trusting everyone to pull their weight. Luckily for me, I got to work with an especially talented, hardworking cast and a tireless director. I was very happy with how the play turned out.”

Not only did the cast memorize lines, remember stage positions and try to master costume changes, but they also had an added challenge of developing their British accents. “The cast did not have an accent coach,” Wales said. “The director was familiar with accents, so she gave them most of their direction and supplied the cast with a packet to make it a little easier. However, they did the majority of it themselves.”

The stage and the seating for the audience were intimately placed together on the stage of Cordier Auditorium. As the audience stood in line waiting to be admitted, there was music from the 40s playing that helped to transport them to a time and place where technology and industry were growing and the end of World War II was looming. 

The play began with a man named Charles, played by Clayton Marcum, talking to his second wife Ruth, played by Katie Doehrmann, about how his first wife died. This discussion soon turned into a debate about whether Charles loved his first wife more than he loved Ruth.  As the play continued, it was revealed that Charles is writing a book that pokes fun at mediums and the dramatic ways by which they communicate with the spiritual realm. 
Charles and Ruth invited their friends, Dr. Bradman (Nolan McBride) and his wife Violet (Katie Bowerman) over to participate in a séance conducted by a quirky old medium, Madame Acarti, played by Kathy Hawkins.
“Blithe Spirit” was rife with striking and memorable appearances of characters. The first was when there was a knock on the door and the servant Edith, played by MacKenzie Weadick, answered it and no one was there. Then across the stage the patio doors crashed open and Madame Acarti stood there in a costume with a strikingly bold print and an aviator helmet concealing her face.
The next startling appearance occurred after the séance, when the ghost of Charles’s first wife, Elvira, arose from under the stage. Following the appearance of Elvira, played by Kenzie Hare, the crowd laughed as Marcum let out a bloodcurdling scream and threw his glass of brandy across the stage.
“My favorite part of the play was when the ghosts came out of the trap door,” said audience member Cally Miller. “This play would get a 10 out of 10 from me. The actors did a great job! It was really funny, and the costumes were really pretty.” 

Elvira had a long silver dress with a grey wig. Her skin was painted a gray-white color and it was starkly contrasted by her burgundy lipstick. The costume gave eminence to her ghostly appearance. The rest of the cast had multiple outfits that were fashionable and fun and helped to illustrate the passage of time and formality of different situations. 
As the play progressed, Charles and Ruth began to unearth a cruel plot that Elvira had been devising, but it was too late. Elvira wanted to kill Charles so that he would be stuck with her in the after-life, but the plan goes awry and she kills Ruth instead. “I really liked that the play kept me on my toes the entire time,” said audience member Elizabeth Boettner. “I had no idea that both of his wives were going to die, which made it that much more intense when his second wife popped up as a ghost. The special effects were also really good.”
The presence of a medium and ghostly wives requires some fun and special effects. At the end of the play, Charles experienced the wrath of his wives because he sent them back to the afterlife. Books were falling off the shelves, as if an invisible hand had seized them and threw them across the room. There was a screen on set that also had an image of Elvira and Ruth as Charles yelled at them because they were finally banished.