Dorset Players show great "Spirit" in season opener

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DORSET >> The nation is saturated with community theaters, and I've been to many of them from one coast to the other. A small handful approach the abilities of professional companies.

The Dorset Players is one of that handful, and have the distinction of a long string of performing seasons – this is their 89th - since the company's inception in 1927. The Players' successful annual slate continued ever since, with the only exception being a few seasons in World War II.

Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit" opens this season, and is produced by Lynne Worth and directed by Dom Degnon.

The action finds us in the living room of novelist Charles Condomine's house in Kent.

Charles (Evan Pringle) calls upon the medium Madame Arcati (Mona Wightman) to initiate a séance, in researching his next book. They are joined by Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Mike Cutler, Janet Groom). Rounding out the household is the maid Edith (Erin Rachel)

The plan goes awry when Charles is haunted by the ghost of his irritating first wife, Elvira (Christy Vogel). Elvira makes repeated efforts to unsettle Charles's marriage to his second wife, Ruth (Elisabeth Hazelton), who can't hear or see the apparition.

The fun just keeps on coming, along with very solid acting.

In her limited time on stage, Rachel was a fine rookie house maid, complete with seemingly vacuous perception in place. Well done. Cutler and Groom cut a right proper stuffy upper crust Brit couple, with Groom expertly channeling her finest inner Hyacinth Bucket in the second act.

Pringle was just as perfectly stiff and condescending as English gentry should be, and Wightman was a crowd favorite with her eccentric interpretation of clairvoyance.

As the two wives, Vogel and Hazleton were mostly annoying, which was exactly the point. Each relied on the other to complement her role, and did they ever! Excellent performances by both ladies, accentuated by an "opposites attract" chemistry.

Lights by Scott Repinski and his crew excelled in their effects. Melissa Curran's sound emphasized a number of key moments and was fanciful to boot. Suzi Dorgeloh's costumes helped to bring home the setting. Indeed, Ruth's outfits were paradigms of the craft: vibrant colors, cutting edge style, and eye-catching — just like the entire set.

Speaking of which: set design by Mona Wightman (yes, she doesn't just act!) and the many hands involved in building it was nothing short of grandiose, and truly world class. A professional theatre with a real budget would be challenged to produce that set. Finally, stage manager Sherrie Rice had the show's logistics taught and well-wired.

There were a few opening night line hesitations, but nothing that won't be ironed out. In all, Degnon got the very best from both cast and crew.

This show is not only subtly funny, but also lots of fun. Seeing your friends and neighbors performing as amateurs but with a high degree of professionalism – and that includes the crew, too – never ceases to amaze me every time I take in a show by The Dorset Players.

As a local spring from which creative waters flow, The Players corner the market. If you go to this play, you will have a great time, guaranteed.

"Blithe Spirit" runs through Oct. 16 at The Dorset Players, Dorset Playhouse, 104 Cheney Rd., in Dorset. For tickets and information call 802-867-2223 or visit dorsetplayers.org

— Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA).


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