We’re well into rehearsals for Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, and the cast is killing it, pardon the pun. Or don’t, I really don’t care. Neither it seems, do any of the characters in the show. Blithe, if Scott is to be believed — and one should believe Scott, otherwise he gets very cranky — is a hilarious romp about people being unwilling to tell the truth about themselves and in turn being as unrelentingly cruel as possible to those closest to them.
Coward wrote Blithe as a send of up traditional social mores and repudiation of the institution of marriage. While the lion’s share of the show is focused on the “love” triangle between Charles, Ruth, and Elvira, his window into what he imagined was the hell of matrimony is more perfectly encapsulated in the characters of the Bradmans, Violet and George. The not-so-good doctor and his psychotically bubbly wife are the couple that anyone who has ever thrown a dinner party will recognize.
The Bradmans are a reaction to the Victorian “Darby and Joan” trope; a proverbial phrase for a married couple content to share a quiet life of mutual devotion.
From Frederic Weatherly’s poem Darby and Joan, late 1800s:
Hand in hand when our life was May
Hand in hand when our hair is grey
Shadow and sun for everyone,
As the years roll on;
Hand in hand when the long night tide
Gently covers us side by side–
Ah! lad, though we know not when,
Love will be with us forever then:
Always the same, Darby my own,
Always the same to your old wife Joan.
Coward imagined a more boorish duo; a long married, long suffering couple who know each other’s every trick and palpably loath one another for the familiarity. It’s a relationship he would revisit throughout his career, eventually immortalizing the relationship in song.
from Sail Away, 1963
We do not fear the verdict of posterity
Our lives have been too humdrum and mundane
In the twilight of our days
We have reached the final phase
In all sincerity
We must explain…
We’re a dear old couple
And we’ve hated one another
For a long, long time…
The joy of watching your fellow actors skewer each other with Coward’s text is nothing short of sublime. That joy is further compounded by getting to play the pepper on what is one theatre’s greatest steaks.
It is so much fun to play these characters, who pop in, are totally horrible, and then escape into the night like gremlins. The fun is doubled by having Jessica Geffen play my stage wife once again. She finally gets her revenge on me for having to play my wife in The Crucible, where a good part of her time on stage consisted of my shouting in her and everyone else’s face.
The fun we’re having in rehearsals is nothing short of criminal, and we can’t wait to share it with you. That, and a few dry martinis!