Blithe Spirit
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy
Through June 17

When art imitates life, the results can be astonishingly humorous and altogether well-conceived. This is especially true when considering Noel Coward’s dark romantic comedy Blithe Spirit in relation to the millennium’s escalating divorce rate and marital disharmony.

In the late 1940s, when Coward penned the play, divorce was a much less practical option for disgruntled lovers, and the vow “’til death do us part” was, in many cases, a life sentence. But when, in Blithe Spirit, bourgeois writer Charles Condomine accidentally raises Elvira, his first wife, from the dead during a séance, the afterlife becomes a viable force in reality rather than relief from a prior commitment. Recently remarried, the charming husband is forced to deal with the past and the present on equal playing fields and quickly becomes pinioned between Elvira and second wife Ruth.

Using the quick wit of this setup, the cast of Blithe Spirit makes the sharp-tongued dialogue ring with intelligent brio, causing the script to carry the same poignancy as it did when Coward penned it. Especially intriguing is Lynda Clark’s Elvira, who flits across the stage with an ephemeral flippancy punctuated by a ghoulishly seductive smirk. Also putting in a stellar performance is JoAnne Dickenson as the plucky psychic, Madame Arcati, who takes a hard-nosed approach to her communion with the spirits. Throughout, the cast follows the ebb and flow of the dramatic dialogue with a well-textured ease that makes the production invitingly humorous and deliciously dry, just as a good English comedy should be.

The Full Monty
Raleigh Little Theatre
Through June 24

Transferring a hit film to the stage is never an easy feat, but writer Terrence McNally and musician David Yazbek have created a foolproof formula in their adaptation of 1997’s Academy Award-nominated hit The Full Monty. And just as the film came with an R rating, the play also comes with a warning tag for foul language, nudity and obscenity. But oh, what fun such lewd behavior can be!

Sitting in an afternoon showing of Raleigh Little Theatre’s The Full Monty, a mild-mannered audience came alive as they chuckled, gasped and guffawed their way through two hours and 25 minutes of this tale of laid-off factory workers and their scheme to earn money through striptease. This scenario sets up gender conflict as the play’s central point of humor. But inherently, this provides a problem: It’s impossible not to laugh at the men, but female performers such as Rose Martin as the bawdy Chippendale enthusiast Georgie, and Kristen Elizabeth McCabe as bitter divorcee Pam, win over the audience.

Still, the play is full of the locker-room humor, dirty dance moves and nudity that fueled the film, and in that brassy realm it’s a major success.