“Blithe Spirit” is a play that never seems to age.
It’s a play that still maintains its freshness and hilarity despite being written in six days in 1941 by prolific playwright Noel Coward.
That’s certainly how Charlotte Parry feels. The ultra-busy stage actor, interpreting the role of Ruth in a new touring production that makes its way through San Francisco beginning Wednesday, Jan. 21st, believes that Coward’s staying power is in his excellent turn of phrase.
“I think it’s just his ability to capture relationships, marriages with such wit has made him so great,” said Parry. “I am drawn to that, he’s so incredibly witty and clever, and he has a real grasp on what marriage and relationships are.
“His characters are all so interesting, there are no dull characters with him. Even the ones with very small cameo roles are just as fascinating.”
“Blithe Spirit” is a fantastical farce that follows author Charles Condomine, who brings forth Madame Arcati to perform a séance. Condomine is working on a book and needs material that the good Madame might be able to provide, but the séance goes horribly wrong. In walks his very ghostly ex-wife Elvira, who is hell-bent (or maybe heaven-bent) on making the current marriage of Charles and Ruth miserable. Ruth cannot see or hear Elvira, but after an unfortunate accident, Ruth is able to see and hear her very, very well.
Parry has certainly had her fair share of exposure to Coward, growing up in England and having spent much of her training interpreting his work, most notably in the play “Private Lives” six years ago. Coward is a man who has greatly influenced both the British and world theatre landscapes, and the notable talent on this current tour is quite befitting an iconic play such as “Blithe Spirit.” Downton Abbey’s Charles Edwards plays the role of Charles Condomine, and legendary entertainer Angela Lansbury takes on the role of Arcati, a role that earned her the best featured actress Tony award in 2009.
Parry certainly marvels at the energy of Lansbury, who is known by millions of children as the soothing, maternal voice of Mrs. Potts in Disney’s masterpiece animated feature film “Beauty and the Beast.” She is also well known on the small screen, spending 11 years as author/sleuth Jessica Fletcher in “Murder She Wrote.” And stage audiences know her for her turns in “Sweeney Todd,” “Gypsy” and “Mame,” to name a few.
“She is a lovely lady, fabulous to work with and such a legend,” said Parry. “She is certainly everything I hope that I am if I am still in the business at her age.
“I watch what she’s doing and play against it. It’s fascinating to learn from her each night and to learn comically from her.”
Learning comically from a woman who is one of only a handful of actors to win five Tony awards is certainly an incredible experience. Lansbury, now 89, has spent the last 72 years of her life acting, now on the final theatre tour of her career. The production is directed by another stage legend, Michael Blakemore, only three years younger than Lansbury. Blakemore has certainly provided Parry with sound advice in order to effectively play Coward, which is a style unto itself.
“The curse of doing Coward’s work is when people fall in and try to make it overly weighty, like ‘here’s a joke coming up,’” said Parry. “(Blakemore) is very much understanding that the situations are heightened where they have to be.”
Parry’s character of Ruth has a unique arc in the show. There is the first part of Ruth, who maintains a highbrow demeanor, very reserved. And there is another Ruth, one who throws caution to the wind and lets it all hang out. It makes for an exhausting evening every single night.
“I feel like Ruth has to become much more domineering, and it’s sort of fun to have a bit of a difference,” said Parry. “My role is very high stakes, there are high stakes in every scene. It’s very hard, with lots of high emotion and jousting.
“After all that is over, I’m ready for a large drink.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
SHNSF presents “Blithe Spirit”
Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Michael Blakemore
Through Feb. 1st
The Golden Gate Theatre
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA
Tickets range from $45 – $175
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com