Friday, November 24, 1995

Three Plays: Blithe Spirit, Hay Fever, Private Lives

by Noel Coward
1941, 1925, 1930
This volume included a humorous intro by Edward Albee.

"Blithe Spirit." I hadn't read any Coward before, and had a notion his work would be laugh-out-loud funny, like Wodehouse's, but I found this play, although extremely literate and witty, wasn't as risible as that. It concerns a man whose first wife, after a seance, reappears to plague him and his second wife. Then the latter dies, too, remanifests, and his life becomes somewhat exasperating. A jolly good plot and all, but I can't help feeling that it could have been more exuberant, if, say, it had detailed the catfighting of the two dead women, or spent more time on them deciding after death that they were pals and that Charles, the hero, was the cad. And the ending was too sudden and –
a glaring omission
totally unexplained. An enjoyable, witty play, and one with clever innuendo, but I don't see its "classic" reputation, as it seems so flawed.

"Hay Fever." This one was, I thought, funnier than the first, but perhaps less witty. It concerned a very bohemian, theatrical and artsy family that bordered on the dysfunctional without actually ever going beyond mere theatrics, instantly forgetting all strife moments after it begins. The family's guests for the weekend are all horrified. It was funny, but it all lead up to a reaction
such as the guests plotting a kind of revenge on the family that used them as theatrical foilsthat never came. I suppose in 1925 the personas of the family were novel enough to carry the play. Also flawed, but also comic and fun.

"Private Lives." About a divorced couple who both remarry and happen to meet again on their simultaneous honeymoons, and then run off together. They fight horribly, and seem to cause their respective second spouses to quarrel just as horribly, and seem to find it amusing. Rather an unpleasant little work, but mildly amusing in parts.

three stars

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