It's okay, ladies, it's almost over: Jenny Mulcahy and Rebecca Ruegg are featured in Blithe Spirit. Photo by Heather Butcher.
I can't say exactly why, in the 13+ years they've been around, I'd never been to a show at Scottsdale Desert Stages until the other day. But enough about me. Desert Stages is a mainstream community theater that's busier than a one-armed paper-hanger. Since they moved into their own space a few years back, they've put on three four-show series each season: big, popular musicals, children's shows with young actors, and their Actor's Café series of somewhat smaller shows. The company has a lot of local fans and alumni and is a wholesome and productive member of the local arts community.
Actor's Café shows are presented in a 60-seat house across from Desert Stages' mainstage for about 10 weeks each. That's a long time to be in a play, especially for a community theater cast. Especially if you're playing one of the wives in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit and you have to encase yourself in silvery ghost makeup every day. Sadly, the 10 weeks of silver service (of which one remains) is the biggest accomplishment of these two lovely young women (pictured above), and most of their castmates managed even less.
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Dominic Kidwell was filling in for actor Terry Helland at the performance I attended. (I don't know how long ago he took over the role.) So it's possible, of course, that Kidwell didn't have much time to prepare or rehearse, and that could be why his Charles Condomine seems oddly jolly for a cynical, gin-swilling novelist in WWII England.
But none of the other performances have any depth or dimension either (except for KatiBelle Collins' charming Madame Arcati, who brings the show so close to tolerable that I wanted to cry each time she exited). Frank Aaron, who plays Dr. Bradman, apparently concluded that British people talk quickly, and he sounds like Ozzy Osbourne in that phone commercial. Chemistry between characters is nil here, and it's all very sad and boring and dreary. (By the way, the play's a comedy.)
I can't lay all of this at the actors' feet. Director Mark-Alan C. Clemente needs to have nipped some of this stuff in the bud, as well as helping the cast find some consistency under the surface of these people. And there's a weird non-verbal staging twist at the end, part of neither the script nor the movie version, that probably has Coward spinning in his grave. It's the last in a series of poor choices that suck all the wit and humor out of the play.
Blithe Spirit runs through January 4 at Scottsdale Desert Stages Actor's Café, 4720 North Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Call 480-483-1664 for tickets, $15 (student rush price) to $25. -- Julie Peterson