One could get into all sorts of Freudian interpretations of this deliciously mischievous and slightly cheeky 1941 Noel Coward farce. After all, it's about a man literally and figuratively haunted by a gaggle of pesky women who cause him no small amount of physical and emotional duress. But it's probably more conducive if you keep textual analysis to a minimum and marvel at the delightful comic interplay among the exceptional cast, led by Rupert Everett, Christine Ebersole, Jayne Atkinson and especially Angela Lansbury. At 83, she's sprightly and vigorous and a joy to watch in the broad comic role of wacky medium Madame Arcati.
It's her character that sets the plot in motion when Charles (Everett) and Ruth (Atkinson) call on her to conduct a sťance, not because they expect to generate any ghosts, it just seems like a fun way for Charles to research his next novel. When the peppy apparition of Charles' first wife, Elvira (Ebersole), appears, a rather unusual love triangle ensues. Elvira, who only Charles can see and hear, wreaks havoc on the household, determined to find a way to keep Charles all to herself while pushing Ruth over the edge.
Director Michael Blakemore (another octogenarian, not that there's anything wrong with that) ensures that the proceedings stay jaunty, even when the play veers off into some potentially bleak directions. Everett's droll, I'm-British-and-I-know-it delivery makes him the ideal Coward surrogate and foil for Lansbury's zany antics. Rounding out the cast are Simon Jones, Deborah Rush and the perfectly pitched Susan Louise O'Connor, a pillar of downtown theater, as the constantly befuddled maid. She couldn't be farther from her roots, but that's not such a bad thing. If nothing about this sparkling production is revolutionary or groundbreaking, it's still a splendid tribute to a gentler, but no less rollicking, era.
By DIANE SNYDER
Christine Ebersole, Rupert Everett, Angela Lansbury, Simon Jones, Jayne Atkinson, Deborah Rush, Susan Louise O'Connor
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