PICT Theatre audiences asked for the classics, and that’s what they’re getting

By Alice T. Carter

Vera Varlamov (right) plays the ghostly Elvira brought back from the dead by a seance who refuses to leave her remarried husband Charles Condomine, played by Dan Rodden. Photo by Stephanie Strasburg, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Vera Varlamov (right) plays the ghostly Elvira brought back from the dead by a seance who refuses to leave her remarried husband Charles Condomine, played by Dan Rodden. Photo by Stephanie Strasburg, Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Artistic and executive director Alan Stanford says the audiences for PICT Theatre, which recently was renamed from Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre, have spoken, and they have been heard.

“Our audience wants the classics,” Stanford says.

So, he is opening the 2014 season with Noel Coward’s comedy “Blithe Spirit.”

“It is a classic example of what classic theater is,” says Stanford, who is also directing the season-opener. “It is something that is a high example of that genre and has become a permanent part of the canon — a play not just for our time, but for all time.

Written to entertain London’s audiences during World War II, the comedy debuted in 1941, with Coward serving as the production’s director.

The play begins on a summer evening as novelist Charles Condomine and his new wife, Ruth, are preparing to host a dinner party, followed by a seance led by Madame Arcati, a quirky local clairvoyant. Charles’ intention is to use the seance as research for a book he’s writing.

However, he gets more than he paid for when Madame Arcati not only makes contact with the spirit of his deceased first wife, Elvira, but actually causes her to materialize.

Returned from the other side, Elvira intends to stay. Seeing Ruth as the interloper, Elvira begins a campaign to dislodge her by one method or another.

While it’s intensely funny, the play also includes elements of tragedy, Stanford says. He hints at a pivotal moment late in the play when a moment with potential for dark tragedy twists into unanticipated hilarity.

“Coward didn’t just write the perfect comedy. He also wrote the perfect tragedy in the same play,” Stanford says.

Stanford’s cast contains a number of familiar Pittsburgh performers augmented by a few actors imported for the production.

In the role of Charles’ new wife Ruth, Pittsburgh actress Daina Michelle Griffith will face off against Vera Varlamov, who returns to PICT to play the ghostly Elvira. Varlamov played Rachelka/Marianna in the company’s production of “Our Class” last season, as well as in Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” in 2012.

Chicago-based actor Dan Rodden will make his Pittsburgh premiere as Charles Condomine, and Pittsburgh actress Mary Rawson will appear as Madame Arcati.

Rounding out the cast are Pittsburgh performers James FitzGerald and Lissa Brennan as the Bradmans and Karen Baum as the Condomines’ maid, Edith.

“It is such a delight to have actors to work with who have a natural skill base and subtlety of approach,” Stanford says.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib

Read original: