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Noel Coward's 'Blithe Spirit' haunting Tybee

POSTED: October 3, 2013 1:23 p.m.
Photo by Jim Glass/

Spirit-seeking (clockwise from left): Jody Buelterman, Howard Bowden, Kim Trammell and Renee DeRossett.

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Rene DeRossett and Kim Trammell are spending yet another weekday afternoon inside the Tybee Arts Association's Jim Ingham Black Box Theater, working on the special effects for Blithe Spirit, the show they've been preparing for months.

Framed photos slide mysteriously up and down the walls, clock hands spin wildly, furniture bobs and bounces — all of it untouched by human hands.

That's because Noel Coward's classic comedy is about a ghost — her name is Elvira — who comes back to cause trouble for her husband, who has remarried.

Typically British, Blithe Spirit, a community theater evergreen since the 1950s, is dry, witty and extremely verbose.

"It's actually one of the most difficult pieces to do," says DeRossett, who's co-directing with Trammell. "It's like doing Shakespeare. Noel Coward takes 20 words to say what he could in five. The actors have to take each sentence and make it their own, for it to not just drill the audience to death with overkill."

These two have been the backbone of Tybee's small performing arts community for years. In fact, they've worked together so much, they can (and do) finish each other's sentences.

"It (the script) is very rhythmic," Trammell interjects, "and that's what we've worked very hard on. Because once you find that rhythm, then it's not just reciting words."

DeRossett illustrates with a few of Coward's lines of poetic dialogue for Madame Acarti, the medium who inadvertently brings Elvira back from that other place:

Some of your remarks have been discourteous in the extreme, and I should like to say, without umbrage, that if you and your husband were foolish enough to tamper with the unseen for paltry motives, or in a spirit of debauchery ...

Trammell: "That makes it lyrical, instead of reciting word after word after word. And that was one of the first hurdles that I think our two leads had to get over."

DeRossett: "To make it their own."

The central character in Blithe Spirit, writer Charles Condomine, is played by Howard Bowden. Jody Buelterman has the part of Ruth Condomine, Charles' (living) spouse.

Trammell is cast as the ghostly (and annoying) Elvira, while DeRossett is seance-starter Madame Acarti.

They also played more or less to type in the 2011 production of The Wizard of Oz — the acerbic Trammell wore the green makeup as the Wicked Witch of the West, while the affable DeRossett assayed the Cowardly Lion.

Both admit that Blithe Spirit is a bold step for theater on Tybee. "This is a great show," says Trammell. "Most of our shows are lighthearted, fun, comedy. And they love that.

"It's a much more intellectual comedy, but I do not underestimate the audience here. I think they're ready. I think they're prepared."

DeRossett, the theater chair for the Tybee Arts Association, reports that the City of Tybee kicked in $20,000 last year to replace the electrical system in the Black Box building (it was in such bad shape that The Wizard of Oz had to be staged in the YMCA). Between that and a newly-acquired light board, the Black Box is comfy, cozy and ready for a crowd.

Like everything the multi-disciplined TAA does, Blithe Spirit and the other plays are designed to be, well, Tybee-centric. It's a tiny venue. Trammell and DeRossett know their target audience.

"Why shouldn't we do it for them?" Trammell asks. "For our island. For our community. They enjoy these shows that we do — we're asked constantly 'When's the next show?'

"There's so much more that we can do here, and they are really receptive. And we are so very grateful for that. Because that makes us excited, to want to step out of the little fluff-piece box and do something like this. Never underestimate your audience, ever. And I think they're going to love it."

 

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