After a long, jolly run – it opened Nov. 25 – Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” will close at the Guthrie on Jan. 14. As of today (Friday, Jan. 5), 13 performances remain. Catch one if you can. Especially if you’re looking for a break from the news and the weather, there may be no better way to spend 2½ hours.
Coward wrote “Blithe Spirit” in 1941, shortly after his home in London was bombed during the Blitz. He retreated to the country with his friend, the actor Joyce Carey, and wrote it in five days. Its witty, breezy, rapid-fire dialogue contains not one mention of the war (although we might have heard something about lights in London being kept low). It was meant to provide weary Londoners with a distraction. Which it did – in 1,997 performances on the West End, then a record-setting run.
Directed by David Ivers on a richly detailed set by Jo Winiarski, “Blithe Spirit” is fast, funny and physical, with crack timing in the dialogue and the stunts. The story, in brief: Charles Condomine (Quinn Mattfield) is a novelist wed to his second wife, Ruth (Heidi Armbruster). His first, Elvira (Elia Monte-Brown) died seven years earlier. One of the characters in Charles’ next book is a medium, so the Condomines invite one – Madame Arcati (Sally Wingert) – to their home for a séance. Charles plans to gather some jargon and tips. Instead, he ends up with the ghost of Elvira, for starters.
Wingert has gotten most of the attention in write-ups about the play, and it’s true that she’s fantastic as Arcati: imperious, eccentric, athletic and naughty. (Meg Neville clearly had fun designing Wingert’s costumes, which include a magnificent kimono, harem pants, argyle socks and a cloche hat that looks like it’s covered with leeches.) But the rest of the cast is right up there.
As Ruth, Armbruster goes from sophisticated elegance to crawling on all fours in frustration and rage. Mattfield is charming and hilariously shallow as Charles. Bob Davis isn’t given much to work with as Dr. Bradman, but he makes the most of what he has, and Amy Warner is endearing as the dim Mrs. Bradman, who can’t say the right thing no matter how hard she tries. In ghostly makeup (made even more magical by Xavier Pierce’s lighting design), Monte-Brown is a captivating Elvira. No wonder Charles still misses her.
A special shout to Suzanne Warmanen as Edith, the maid. She literally sets the stage, or part of it, before the play begins, clueing us in that fun is on the way. Every step she takes, every gesture she makes, every “Yessum” she speaks is spot-on.
The 2½-hour length includes a 15-minute intermission and a three-minute stretch break during the second half. Honestly, the time flies. FMI and tickets (start at $37).
Tonight (Friday, Jan. 5) and tomorrow at the Dakota: Rebirth Brass Band. After 35 years in New Orleans, the Grammy-winning Rebirth knows how to party. They’ll heat up the Dakota with their signature mix of heavy funk, bounce and swing. As Flea wrote on Twitter, “unbelievable. hard as hell. free as a ray of light.” 7 and 9:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($35/40).
Sunday at the Lakeville Area Arts Center: Music for Nature: The Ecomusic of Steve Heitzeg. Emmy-winning area composer Heitzeg treats stones, driftwood, branches, bones and sea shells as instruments in original music that celebrates the natural world. With percussionists Heather Barringer and Patti Cudd (of the new music ensemble Zeitgeist), trumpeter Charles Lazarus (of the Minnesota Orchestra), soprano Anna Christofaro, and pianist Tom Linker. 2 p.m. FMI and tickets ($18/15). A reception follows.
Monday and Tuesday at the Dakota: We Can Be Heroes: The David Bowie Tribute. Bowie died on Jan. 10, 2016. Early next week, Twin Cities talent will gather to pay their respects in music – and fashion. With Julius Collins, Jeremy Ylvisaker (The Suburbs), Ryan Smith (Soul Asylum), Cory Eischen, Steve Price, Katie Gearty, Rachel Holder, Ann Michels, and Erin Schwab, all under the direction of Prince’s longtime bandmate and drummer, Michael Bland. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30-40).
Tuesday at Mixed Blood: Enacting the Dream: Selected Readings from Karen Zacarias’ “Just Like Us” and a Community Conversation about the DREAM Act. DACA permits start expiring on March 5. Meanwhile, more than 6000 DREAMers living in Minnesota face an uncertain future. The Guthrie’s Artistic Director Joseph Haj and Mixed Blood’s Artistic Director Jack Reuler have partnered to present a free community “happening” centered on a topic close to us all. How close? Reuler said in a statement, “Issues of immigration and concerns of immigrants and refugees occur daily on Mixed Blood’s block (on which 4,500 people from 65 countries reside).” Readings from Zacarias’ play “Just Like Us” (her “Native Gardens” was presented at the Guthrie last summer) will be followed by a panel discussion among public officials, immigration experts and DREAMers. Free, but capacity is limited and reservations are required; there will be an RSVP check-in at the event. Reserve online or call 612-377-2224.
Wednesday at the American Swedish Institute: Poets and Writers and Musicians Against the War on the Earth. In the 1960s, an organization called American Writers Against the Vietnam War, begun by poets Robert Bly and David Ray, helped shape U.S. public opinion. Last June, writers Ruth Bly (Robert’s wife), Jim Lenfestey and Freya Manfred held an event called “Poets and Writers and Musicians Against the War on the Earth” that drew more than 300 people to St. Joan of Arc Church. The 21st century topic: the climate crisis. They’re back with more words, music and dance, this time at ASI. Scheduled to appear: the Frantzich family, Prudence Johnson, Phil Bryant, Sharon Chmielarz, Jim Heynen, Ezra Hyland, Athena Kildegaard, Klecko, Ardie Medina, Matt Rasmussen, Katherine Rauk, Thomas R. Smith, Bart Sutter and Tim Young. Opening invocation by waterkeepers Thorne and Wakinyan LaPointe. Co-sponsored by Rain Taxi. 7 p.m. Free. Stay after for cider and meet with reps from organizations related to the cause.