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A Husband Watches His Wife

By Marty Nemko

My wife, Barbara Nemko, had poor timing. I was assigned to write a review of her performance last night in Napa’s Dreamweavers Theatre production of Noel Coward’s tour de force, Blithe Spirit. But Barb and I had just had a fight. A biggie.

Perhaps I’m just a fool in love, but despite it all, after seeing the play, alas, I have to admit she’s damn good. As the domineering Ruth Condamine, she credibly conveys anger, pleasure, bitchiness (she does that especially well), fear, and ambivalence. Frankly, that scares me. If she’s that good an actress on stage, then how often is she using her thespian talents offstage to BS me?

Her performance also demonstrated a characteristic too rare in community theater actors: an understanding of the full meaning behind each of the play’s lines. That is especially important in a play as intelligent as Blithe Spirit.

More mundane yet critical, she sounds natural yet is loud enough to be heard in the back row. Perhaps that’s because she’s a former school marm (She’s now the Napa County Superintendent of Schools.)

Lest you think I’m oblivious to Barbara’s acting flaws, I should warn you that her British accent a few times devolved into Bronxish.

If you come out to see the play, email to let me know if I’m just a biased husband or if she’s actually any good.

Sure, Barbara appreciates my praising her acting skills but admits being even more pleased that she, who is on the dark side of 50, is playing a woman in her 30’s. To boot, Marcus Magdaleno, who plays her husband, Charles Condamine, is, in real life, 28.

It’s just a tad unnerving to see my wife’s ever more vicious on-stage attempts to pierce Charles’ debonair veneer. It evokes fragrant memories of our marriage’s darker moments. I wish I had Charles’ demeanor and looks—he’s a far more formidable opponent than my Woody Allenesque self.

At the risk of angering my wife, my favorite character is Mary Ewart, who plays the small but critical role of Edith, the maid. She simply needs to take a step or turn her head to make me laugh. It’s not surprising that she was considered for a part on Saturday Night Live. Beyond just being funny, she plays her role completely credibly.

The title role of the blithe spirit, Elvira, is played by June Alane Reif, a solid actress made even better in this production because of her ability to use her body. She indeed is a blithe spirit as she gallivants and swoops around the lovely set created by the masterful Ken Boyd and his Fabulous Four cronies.

The telepathic medium, Madame Arcati, is played by veteran Dreamweavers star, Gwynneth Trice. From her accent to her delivery to her perfect look, she is as credible as a psychic medium can be.

I saw Miriam Grosman try out for this production, and she was very good, so I feared that she and not my wife would land the female lead role. As it happened, Miriam preferred the small role of Mrs. Bradman, the flighty yet formal matron so eager to believe in the occult. If I look in my crystal ball, I see larger roles in Miriam’s future, although the acting future of Reece Baswell, who plays her cynical husband, is cloudier.

Kudos to sound designer, Ed Fevang, who painstakingly sourced the many sound effects. For example, to simulate a séance table rumbling, he downloaded, from the website of the US Geological Survey, the sound of an earthquake.

There is a special place in my heart for the person with the play’s least glamorous role: Marguerite Pate, the elegant stage and property manager. Despite being under the weather for the last few weeks, she has worked tirelessly, with little credit, on everything from the required cucumber sandwiches to dragging her furniture from her house to the theater’s set. Marguerite, you are an inspiration.

I wish that director, Louise Anderson, who founded Dreamweavers 20 years ago, had, as other directors have done, trimmed the superfluous dialogue, but her hard work and cool demeanor have nonetheless contributed to a strong production of this challenging play.

Oh yes, the play! Blithe Spirit is among the most widely produced plays. Its success owes to its combination of biting repartee, plot twists, more than a soupcon of the supernatural, and a startling ending, all wrapped around an exploration of one of life’s universals: the relationship between husband, wife, and former wife.

Speaking of spousal relations, if my wife stays mad at me, I may need to call in Madame Arcati to have her exorcised. So, while you can, I recommend you levitate yourself over to see Blithe Spirit.

It runs Fridays and Saturday nights at 8, Sundays at 2, through Sep. 17 at the Dreamweavers Theater in the River Park Shopping Center, 1637 Imola Ave, behind The Golden Carrot. $18 regular, $15 students and seniors 60+. For reservations: 707-255-LIVE.

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