October 21, 2021

Blithe Spirit Conjures up a Hilarious Romp at LCT

Review by William Garcia

This review originally appeared in the Saturday, October 16, 2021 edition of the La Crosse Tribune.

La Crosse, WI - 10/11/21 - Theatre has a remarkable ability to help us to forget our troubles and remind us, even in the most difficult of times, that life is meant to be joyous. La Crosse Community Theatre’s latest production of Blithe Spirit is a delight because of this joy. The story of a man who accidentally conjures the spirit of his first wife at a dinner party séance works so well because it finds humor and love in moments when the world makes almost no sense at all.

This joy is best epitomized by the cast of Blithe Spirit, who make this production so entertaining. Individually and as an ensemble, the actors bring a playfulness to the performance that invites the audience to join in. Kaleb Smith and Sara Rieke, as married couple Charles and Ruth Condomine, look and act as if they just stepped out of a glorious 1930’s black and white talkie. Smith does an incredible job of comedically unraveling as his world turns upside down. His reactions to the insanity are deeply funny while remaining genuine. Rieke’s put-upon second wife is amusing, while also providing the needed emotional energy to drive the story, weaving her way through emotional highs and lows so that the audience can enjoy the ride. Katie Bakalars, as the spirit Elvira, proves an excellent foil for Ruth Condomine. Brash, emotional and cunning, she glides around the stage leaving mayhem in her wake. Bakalars expertly walks a fine line between being bright, charismatic and seductive, while still being the cause of everyone’s problems.

Special note should be made of Jennifer Marie Burchell’s Madame Arcati who is a force of hysterical chaotic energy from beginning to end. Her pitch-perfect delivery, energetic physical comedy and pure enjoyment of the character infuses the entire play with giddiness and wit, and she is a delight every time she appears onstage. The rest of the cast rounds out the ensemble beautifully. Jim Nelson and Megan Bridget, as George and Violet Bradman, prove excellent counterweights to the action onstage. Nelson’s intellectual skepticism allows the audience to enjoy Charles' unhinged confusion, while Bridget’s enthusiastic curiosity sets the stage for the audience to understand all that happens next. Alyssa Teske’s maid Edith is a steady comedic presence, and she unexpectedly steals the show for a moment when the audience is least expecting it.

Theatre in a pandemic can be tricky, but LCT does a wonderful job of making audience members feel safe. A new air filtration system, pod-seating that gives some distance between parties and a mask requirement for all audience members keeps the experience enjoyable and secure.

Directed by David Gardiner with beautiful 1940’s era costumes from designer Theresa Smerud and a deceptively inventive set by Nate Mohlman, the production is visually beautiful. The production team, including Katelyn Klieve, Erik Vose, and Alex Attardo, work incredibly hard to ensure the audience experiences every comic moment. See this show and be reminded that life is always better when laughing.