By Sally Deering
New York’s Broadway and London’s West End resuscitated Noel Coward’s 1941 farce BLITHE SPIRIT, last season, with the iconic Angela Lansbury in the role of the eccentric Madame Arcati.
Jersey City’s Attic Ensemble follows in those theatrical footsteps as it ushers in its 44th season with this kooky supernatural stage comedy – just in time for Halloween.
Forty-four years bringing theater to the locals is no small feat and Attic Ensemble keeps the curtain rising even though financially the troupe could use some help filling the coffers. The last few years have been tough-going for the little theater company and there were times the artistic team led by president Billy Mitchell thought the company would be closing its doors for good. But the last two shows attracted large audiences, so the plays go on and hopefully this upswing will lead to a theater angel who may want to adopt the troupe.
“We will be doing a three-show season this year, even though we’re going show-to-show,” Mitchell says during a break from BLITHE SPIRIT rehearsals. “Our last two productions, DETECTIVE STORY and CUCKOO’S NEST had great audiences, but we need a big angel and three or four little cupids who will help (financially). We do the best we can with limited resources.”
A drawing room comedy, BLITHE SPIRIT centers on the marriage of novelist Charles Condomine and his second wife, Ruth. Curious to see what may develop, Charles invites Madame Arcati, a local eccentric to a dinner party where she holds a séance and conjures up his first wife, Elvira. Craziness ensues, just like that of a screwball comedy.
It features a fine-tuned cast of actors including Ginger Kipps, Hank Morris, Nicole O’Donnell, Don Pflaster, Alexandra Pflaster, Pauline Walsh and William Powers. Director George Seylaz says he was attracted to the farce because of Noel Coward’s witty dialogue.
“While it takes place in the early 1940s, there is very little about the play that feels dated,” Seylaz says. “It’s another of Noel Coward’s frothy drawing room comedies about love and relationships. In BLITHE SPIRIT however, he adds a supernatural twist. I like to think of it as a spectacularly spooky, frivolously frothy cocktail of comedy.”
ATTIC ENSEMBLE, AN ACTORS’ THEATER
BLITHE SPIRIT is the 5th play (Ms.) Hank Morris has done with Attic Ensemble in addition to THE DETECTIVE STORY, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, BLOOD & OIL and DANGEROUS LIASONS. Morris resides in Union City.
“In BLITHE SPIRIT, I play Ruth, the second wife,” Morris says. “It’s really fun because we’re doing it as a period comedy, in the style as it was meant to be done.”
Jersey City resident Don Pflaster plays Charles Condomine, the role Rex Harrison played in the 1945 film version. In real life, Pflaster works as a web developer and is married to Alexandra Pflaster who plays Edith, the maid in BLITHE SPIRIT. Don Pflaster says even though the play was written in the 1940s, the laugh lines are still funny.
“It will be interesting to see what the audience laughs at,” Don Pflaster says. “They’re very much real people in an odd situation. I’m having a lot of fun. It’s difficult, the amount of lines I’ve had to learn, but it’s fun.”
Accounting supervisor Bill Powers is an Attic Ensemble newbie who saw the auditions for BLITHE SPIRIT posted online, and says he thought why not try out.
“I live in Clifton, work in Manhattan and I go where the fun is,” Powers says. “I’m having a great time.”
Ginger Kipps plays the delicious role of Madame Arcati, which was revived on Broadway recently by Angela Landsbury who just closed (in June) a 3-month run at the Gielgud Theatre in London. (The great Margaret Rutherford played Madame Arcati in the 1945 film directed by David Lean). The role is a character actress’s dream come true because of Madame Arcati’s flamboyant eccentricities.
“I’m just over the moon,” Kipps says about playing the iconic role.
A resident of Jersey City who works in desktop publishing, Kipps says doing plays with the Attic Ensemble keeps her sane. It also satisfies the acting bug she’s had for a long time.
“I’ve been with Attic for 14 years,” Kipps says. “We are a community theater and it’s a group that’s been committed to doing good work. It’s a family and it’s a lot of fun to come here. I moved to New York to be an actress. I do voiceovers. I’m still trying.”
ONCE UPON A TIME IN JERSEY CITY…
The Attic Ensemble first came together as a group of St. Peter’s College students who were members of the school’s Argos Eyes Dramatic Society and named their theater after the attic space where they held meetings. In 1971, Attic Ensemble began doing workshops, revues and concerts at various venues. A year later, they did their first season of plays, THE LION IN WINTER, THE LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS, and LITTLE MURDERS; and the next year they did their first musical, JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS.
The company roamed around Jersey City, performing where they could until they found a permanent space in 1976, the cozy theater that was part of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church off West Side Avenue in Jersey City. They did 5 shows their first season there: THE SOUND OF MUSIC, TWELFTH NIGHT, A CELEBRATION OF LIFE, THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, SMELL OF THE CROWD and ALICE IN WONDERLAND. The company played St. Stephen’s until 1997 when they performed their last show, the Stephen Sondheim musical COMPANY, and then moved across town to the Barrow Mansion on Wayne Street off Grove.
BLITHE SPIRIT opens on Fri, Oct. 24th and runs for seven performances. Celebrating its 44th season, many supporters seem to have their fingers crossed for the company with the hope that an angel will discover there are priceless treasures worth saving in this Attic.
If you go:
Fri 10/24 & Sat 10/25 @ 8; Sun 10/26 @ 3pm
Thurs 10/30 @ 7 pm; Fri 10/31 & Sat 11/1 @ 8; Sun, 11/2 @ 3 pm
at the Attic Ensemble
83 Wayne Street
Tickets: $22; $20 for students and seniors
For reservations: (201) 413-9200
Or go to www.atticensemble.org
Charge tickets online at