Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury is the best reason to see Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit, now at the Ahmanson Theatre. The venerated performer is reprising her Broadway role of Madame Arcati, a dotty psychic who hooks up a martini-drinking mystery writer Charles (Charles Edwards) with his deceased former spouse, Elvira (Jemima Rooper). Unfortunately, Lansbury isn’t onstage the whole time. Much of the dialogue takes place among Charles, Elvira and Charles’ second wife, Ruth (Charlotte Parry). Ruth cannot see the ghost, and she is therefore chagrined because she mistakenly thinks that Charles’ sharp dismissive words are directed at her. As the enmity grows, so does the jealous squabbling and increased mention of past infidelities. It’s all very class-bound Coward, replete with cigarettes and cocktails, and unless you have performers of the caliber of Lansbury, the evening is reduced to banter and fluff. That’s correctable if the director insists that performers infuse inner life into their characters. But under Michael Blakemore’s direction, Edwards and Parry are, to varying degrees, merely capable. Rooper flounces and pouts, and that’s about it. On the other hand, there’s Lansbury. If you’re looking to experience a beautiful grand dame of the theater at her comic best, this is your chance. Note: no performance on Dec. 24-25 and Jan. 1.

Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: Dec. 16. Continues through Jan. 18, 2014
(Expired: 01/18/15)

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