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"Blithe Spirit"

When a séance goes awry, things get delightfully goofy and unexpectedly spooky

Blithe Spirit’s tale of marital troubles in the afterlife is carried by charm. Photo credit: Tacoma Little Theatre

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In their 99th season, Tacoma Little Theatre is now two for two when it comes to wry comedies featuring cosmopolitan couples dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Their first production, Rumors, was a dizzy deconstruction of, and tribute to, the genre of farce; in its whirlwind, breathless execution, it was an exuberant hit. This time around, for Halloween, we've got Blithe Spirit -- a comedy that, in comparison, is like a cozy sweater to the overexcited bear hug of Rumors. This is not a bad thing, though: while Rumors' biggest objection may just be how frenetic it is, Blithe Spirit goes down easy, carried along on gales of charm.

For Ruth and Charles Condomine (Deya Ozburn and Jed Slaughter), the evening begins in smug frivolity, as the couple prepares for a psychic to arrive and perform a séance. Charles is a writer of mystery novels, and hopes to pick up some mannerisms from someone he assumes to be a charlatan. While they wait for the guests to arrive, the couple talks about Charles' late ex-wife, Elvira. Another married couple, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (John Saunders and Darla Smedley), come around to take part in the séance, with a giggling enthusiasm. Finally, our eccentric medium Arcati (Dana Galagan) shows up, and the pieces are in place to misguidedly mess with the dead.

If you thought that that aforementioned late wife, Elvira, wouldn't make an appearance, you'd be sorely mistaken. As played by Brittany D. Henderson, Elvira is a vivacious, mischievous, and absolutely winning ghost, somehow capable of gaining our affections even after causing terrible things to happen. It's in Elvira's ghost manifesting herself in the wake of the séance that Blithe Spirit really opens up and finds pockets of truth and even some unexpected spookiness in the largely lightweight comedy. For the majority of the play, only Charles can see and hear the specter of his late wife, leading to a number of delightfully goofy misunderstandings -- as well as some legitimately pointed observations on the nature of relationships and the power indifferences within.

Along the way, this becomes largely a three-person showpiece, with Ozburn, Slaughter and Henderson playing beautifully off of each other. The notion of a love triangle is dangled, but quickly tossed aside in favor of exposing just how petty and shallow all of these characters -- Charles, in particular -- truly are. For the amount of playing around with the rules of the afterlife Blithe Spirit does, the play boils down to one of contention between people who view love as comeuppance and relationships as status-signifiers.

If you choose to view Blithe Spirit as such a commentary, the material is there for you; really, though, the play invites you along to watch these infectious performances from Ozburn, Slaughter and Henderson, with Galagan's flighty turn as the medium being a particular treat. Props must also be given to the stage crew, doing so much with so little in the design and execution of the set, including some unexpected feats later on in the show.

Blithe Spirit, 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Nov. 5, $20-$24, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281, tacomalittletheatre.com

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