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AAFC to present 'Blithe Spirit' at Geyer in Scottdale

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Linda Harkcom | for the Daily Courier
The cast from Actors and Artists of Fayette County’s production of “Blithe Spirit” rehearse a scene from the British comedy that opens Thursday at the Geyer Performing Arts Center in Scottdale. Front, from left, are Mrs. Bradman and Dr. Bradman, played by real life wife and husband Laurie and Ernie Watson of Brownsville; Madame Arcati, played by Martha Oliver of Scottdale; Charles Condomine, played by Shawn Conway of Latrobe; Edith played by Dottie Davis of Connellsville; Ruth Condomine played by Michelle Rivas of Clairton; back, Elvira Condomine played by Keri Wardman of Brownsville.

Actors and Artists of Fayette County will kick off the Halloween season this week with a family-friendly comedy about a man, his new wife and his dead wife's ghost in “Blithe Spirit.”

The show, directed by Daniel Pretz, opens Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Geyer Performing Arts Center in Scottdale.

While Pretz has been involved in theater most of his life as an actor or working on the technical end of shows, this is his first time directing.

“I chose this play for a few reasons,” he said. “First, I love the script. It is a witty form of humor that I love to see, and I figured that a comedy would be a nice starting point for my directing debut.

“Second, it is perfect for the Halloween season. One of the lead characters is a ghost, but the story is not at all scary, so it is a family-friendly way of getting into the Halloween mood.

“Finally, the show has some really fun technical elements that I was looking forward to working on. I wanted to play to my strengths since this was the first show I am directing, and I have had a lot of experience working with the technical side of theater, so this seemed like a perfect pick all around.”

Pretz said he finds directing to be both wonderful and terrifying.

“I love that I have the freedom to bring my own vision to life, and I am terrified to think of the enormity of the responsibilities before me,” he said. “Recently, it has become much more gratifying as I have gotten to see the various pieces of the show come together. I still have the original scribbles that I made when thinking about the set design, and to look now and see that it has been brought to life — it is very exciting.”

Pretz said acting and directing are very different. As an actor, he said, he has worked under a number of directors, some he describes as great and some he said were terrible. He has utilized those experiences, he said, to develop a directing style that he hopes brings in the good qualities he has seen and avoids some of the poor ones.

“I can't say that having been an actor makes me a better director. I can say, though, that having been a director will absolutely make me a better actor in the future,” he said.

In “Blithe Spirit” — a comedy hit of the London and Broadway stages — fussy, cantankerous novelist Charles Condomine, played by Shawn Conway of Latrobe, gets remarried but is haunted, literally, by the ghost of his late first wife, the clever and insistent Elvira, played by Kari Wardman of Brownsville. Elvira is conjured up by a visiting “happy medium,” Madame Arcati, played by Martha Oliver of Scottdale. Things get particularly complicated and increasingly amusing when Charles' second wife, Ruth Condomine, played by Michelle Rivas of Clairton, begins to clash with his ghostly first.

“I think people will enjoy the script and the characters the most. Noel Coward wrote a hilarious script, and the cast has been having a lot of fun bringing it to life. I think that the scenic elements will also be very memorable,” Pretz said. “I don't want to give too much away, but I will tell you I have never designed a set with as many special effects before. I fully expect the audience to walk away scratching their heads wondering how we made some of these things happen.”

This is Conway's second show at the Geyer PAC. The 28-year-old has performed in several musicals since high school with various community groups and is the director of Latrobe Junior High School's musical.

While well versed in musicals, he said this is the first play he has done since high school.

“It's much different than anything I have ever done before,” Conway said. “It's British, so these are not phrases you will use in everyday conversations. It's certainly the most challenging script I have ever taken on. It's been fun developing the accent and it makes doing the dialogue much easier.”

Conway said his character, whom he described as the life of the party and a jokester, is much different than who he is.

“We both tell really terrible jokes, but he is so much more smooth and worldly than I am. It's nice to play someone who is not like yourself,” he said.

Wardman, 29, said she also has a lot of experience with musicals, including five at the Geyer PAC, but this is her first play.

“It's completely different. With a musical, you can learn the lines with the melody, but with a play, you just have to learn straight lines,” she said.

Wardman is enjoying playing a ghost she described as mean and a flirt, which is opposite from the type of character she is used to portraying.

“It's fun because I always get the funny comedic roles, so it's a lot of fun to get to be mean,” Wardman said.

Having acted with Pretz before, Wardman is enjoying working with him as her director.

“When he gives a critique, he's really sympathetic about it and puts a lot of thought into his critique,” she said.

Other members of the cast include: Dr. Bradman and Mrs. Bradman, played by real life husband and wife Ernie and Laurie Watson of Brownsville, and Edith, played by Dottie Davis of Connellsville.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; there is a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Sunday.

Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased at the door. Call 724-887-0887 or visit Dinner theater tickets are available but cannot be purchased online. They must be purchased by calling Miss Martha's Tea Room at 724-887-6574.

Linda Harkcom is a contributing writer.

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