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Putting It Blithely

Spirited cast speaks out on Noel Coward’s ‘improbable farce’ at the Little Theatre.

For their last play of the season, the Little Theatre of Alexandria will present Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” an “improbable farce” as the playwright called it, which centers around English novelist Charles Condomine and the impact three women — current wife Ruth, deceased wife Elvira and medium Madam Arcati — have on his life. Director Joe Schubert has led more intense rehearsals in the last week to prepare for the show, which includes several technical tricks.

“The cast is in high spirits and ready to go,” director Joe Schubert said. “They performed it twice, with many of the special effects that will be used.”

The numerous effects make “Blithe Spirit” a new experience for Schubert. “I haven’t had an occasion to work with this particular kind of a show before,” he said.

“Your technical staff is really the ones you rely on a lot; they’re very good at what they do.”

Many of the effects are “ghostly kinds of things,” in keeping with the supernatural feeling of the play.

Directing “Blithe Spirit” has allowed Schubert to return to a play and a playwright he has a history with. He said that when he first began theatre 29 years ago, he auditioned and was cast for “O Coward,” a musical review of Coward’s work with songs and skits. Two years later, he starred as Charles in “Blithe Spirit.”

“At my age, I have very little recollection of how I did,” he said, laughing. “When I look at the photographs, it’s quite a difference.”

Two of the main cast members — Alexandria resident Tom Pentecost, who plays Charles in this production, and Frieda Enoch, who says her role as Madam Arcati is worth the trip from her home in Gaithersburg, Md. — spoke about their experiences in the play. The cast is rounded out by Laura Russell, of Reston, who plays Elvira, and Alexandrian Barbara Raffaele, who plays Ruth.

Tell me about your character. What are the challenges and opportunities the role presents?

Pentecost: Charles is kind of an Englishman Englishman … He’s classically educated. Those days, that meant you had a certain privilege in life … everything was kind of presented to you as you own the world. Charles is spoiled, he’s had an easy time with the opposite sex, everything sort of comes his way relatively easily. He’s a novelist, he kind of manipulates a lot of things around him.

Generally a shallow kind of guy – he’s kind of a child. He’s been dominated by women, whether he wants to admit it or not. He loves them, I think, much like a child would love a mother.

The challenges for me are that it’s a lead role, and I haven’t been doing acting all that long. When I was auditioned, it’s because I was asked to. I’m generally cast as a heavy – someone’s who tough or mean, or authoritarian. Being light and carefree in the play has been the challenge for me.

Enoch: She’s a fun, wonderful character, with wonderful opportunities to be creative. She obviously is a pivotal character – she influences people’s lives, and which direction they go in.

I was drawn to the role because of how much fun she is – how creative she is, how goofy she is. It really allows you to go outside yourself as an actor.

I don’t want her to be a caricature. She is a real person. I think she believes in herself, she believes in what she does. She’s definitely eccentric.

It’s fun being out there [but] you have to be real.

The character I was drawn to — a couple of her lines I remembered from high school: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy” and “You can stew in your own juice”

Everything about her is such fun … I’m really honored to play the role.

How do the special effects affect your acting?

Pentecost: You have to believe what you’re seeing … The crew that is working is very experienced and very, very good.

Special effects are wonderful. I guess the challenge with the special effects is the time. You have to react to it and go with the script. [The important steps are] believing it, making sure you’re ready when things may or may not go right, and adjusting.

We run into little things, like mixing drinks on stage, smoking on stage – I don’t smoke. It’s a challenge to think about what I’m doing, having my lines, and lighting a cigarette.

Enoch: It only enhances and helps create that reality. It’s wonderful – the sound, the music, the lights – that’s magic, and it helps create it.

What do you think of performing Noel Coward’s writing?

Pentecost: Ironically, I had been cast in a Noel Coward play, but I had to pull out. Lo and behold, after I decided I wouldn’t do Noel Coward, and then I was asked to audition.

[Coward’s writing is] very chatty – a lot of dialogue. The word choice makes it complicated to get your lines right. Your American brain isn’t pulling in the older English, it’s pulling in American. Your brain just flips for a second. Every once in a while, when you get into the moment, you’re not thinking about it anymore, the Americana slips in.

Enoch: Oh my goodness. I enjoy watching the other actors because of their acting and because of Noel Coward’s words, his dry wit. It’s very clever and funny, and very British as well.

THE THREE individuals had three different reasons to encourage people to come see the show. “People will enjoy it for that sort of wit that Coward is known for,” Schubert said. Pentecost praised the three actresses he is working with: If anyone wants a really enjoyable evening, go and watch those women do their thing.” Enoch said the acting will improve when there is an audience. “We’re ready to have an audience and have that input. Actors feed on the audience.”