"Blithe Spirit," one of Noel Coward's biggest and most enduring comic hits, will be gliding in to North Coast Repertory Theatre Sept. 5, starting off NCRT's 37th season with a high-spirited tale of séances, apparitions, and the unexpected things that can happen when a writer tries to research clairvoyance.
London-born Rosina Reynolds, who has been one of San Diego's most ubiquitous (and successful) actor/directors for over 30 years, is directing. No stranger to Coward's work, she has performed in "Hay Fever" twice, won San Diego Critics Circle's Best Actress Award for playing the female lead in "Private Lives" and directed "Blithe Spirit" at NCRT once before, in 1995.
Does she have a different take on the play this time?
"I'm a bit of a traditionalist with Noel Coward," she said. "I see no reason to mess with his work. He's the quintessential English high-comedy writer, part of my DNA as an English person, and his plays are very challenging to do. It's almost like you have a balloon you have to keep up in the air. You have to find the right pace, so the language sings. It's almost like a musical, with duets and trios, and you have to maintain that bubbling champagne quality, the effervescence of the language and the playfulness of the ghost that nobody sees but the writer, Charles."
Reynolds noted that Coward wrote "Blithe Spirit" in 1941, during the dark days and nights of the Blitz, when London was constantly being bombed by the Nazis. In that difficult time, he gave people something to laugh about.
"It's one of his most-revived plays, and it's great entertainment," she said. "If you want an evening of scintillating dialogue and clever physical comedy, come see 'Blithe Spirit.' "
About Noel Coward
Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973), the popular 20th-century playwright, performer and songwriter, was as famous for his witty conversation as his comedies of manners. "Star quality," he said. "I don't know what it is, but I've got it."
Born poor in a London suburb, he turned himself into the flamboyant sophisticate that playwright John Osborne called "his own best creation." Knowing he had "a talent to amuse," he started out as an actor. Once he took up writing, he wrote over 50 plays, often at legendary speed.
In 1941, he's said to have finished "Blithe Sprit" in four days, with no rewrites needed. It was an instant success, became the longest-running non-musical show in London theater history, and ran almost two years on Broadway. And some of his many songs, like "Mad Dogs and Englishman," became hits on both sides of the Atlantic.
During World War II, he entertained Allied troops and spied for the British, using his public persona as a cover. After the war, he continued writing and acting, and did a film of "Blithe Spirit," starring Rex Harrison, later followed by a Broadway musical version, which he directed.
He performed in Las Vegas, and became a favored guest on American TV. In 1970, he was knighted, and also received a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement. For years, he kept a home in Jamaica, where he loved painting and swimming. He died there in 1973, but his "Blithe Spirit" lives on.
• IF YOU GO: "Blithe Spirit" runs Sept. 5-30, 2018 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets from $42. (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org