12/17/2010 10:47 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

High Spirits and Expectations at A Noise Within

The fall season at A Noise Within has included two classic plays imaginatively modernized by the acclaimed repertory theater in Glendale, CA. Both Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit and Charles Dickens' Great Expectations were hilarious, extremely well-acted and included creative use of props and wardrobe. Both plays made excellent use of the small space of the temporary theater (A Noise Within is currently building their permanent playhouse in Pasadena), and are certainly more than worth a trip to Glendale.

Blithe Spirit

First performed in 1941, Blithe Spirit is the story of the ghost of an ex-wife who wreaks havoc on her former husband's second marriage. The improbable and hilarious tale begins with a séance held by novelist Charles Condomine (Scott Lowell) and his wife Ruth (Jill Van Velzer).

(All photos by Craig Schwartz)

Done for research purposes for Charles' upcoming novel which includes a character of a quirky medium (here played by the outstanding and hilarious Jane Macfie), the couple initially view the séance as a silly parlor game, however, the evening soon turns very serious for Charles when the spirit of his ex-wife Elvira (Abby Craden) comes back from the afterlife visible only to Charles.

Elvira sticks around post-séance causing chaos for the Condomines. Craden's vampy Elvira is an excellent contrast to Van Velzer's high strung Ruth. Lowell plays the distraught husband wonderfully, causing the audience to at once sympathize and laugh at his troubles. Poor Charles finds himself torn between the past and the present, an analogy no less suitable today than when the play was initially written.

Great Expectations

Centered around the orphaned and impoverished Pip (Jason Dechert), the production is the West coast premiere of Neil Bartlett's 2007 adaption of Dickens' nineteenth century novel. A classic (and bizarre) coming of age story, it begins with Pip's encounter with escaped convict Magwitch (Daniel Reichert). The chance meeting has incredible consequences on Pip's future, although this is unknown to him until much later in the story.

Raised by his sister (Jill Hill) and her blacksmith husband, Joe (Geoff Elliott, who also co-directed the play with Julia Rodriguez-Elliott), Pip desired for a life better than his current bleak social standing. Kurt Boetcher's set design and Ken Booth's lighting were essential in creating the dreary and impoverished scene and were key to adding to the drama of the story.

Pip's fortune changes after he is invited to play cards at the wealthy - and very jaded - Miss Havisham's (played brilliantly by understudy Jane Macfie). Seen as a chance to increase his social standing, Pip's family pressures him to make a good impression on Havisham. The resulting encounters at her eccentric house cause Pip to fall in love with Havisham's attendant/project Estella (Jaimi Page), who was raised by Havisham to break men's hearts. Soon after his trips to Miss Havisham's end, a mysterious benefactor endows Pip with a large sum of money. Pip, now calling himself Mr. Phillip Pirrip, seeks the life of a gentleman, moves to London and aspires to win over Estella.

The resulting behavior by Pip, the eventual unveiling of the true benefactor and the multiple plot twists ultimately lead to a satisfyingly unresolved ending. Bartlett's edits at times make the story a little difficult to follow, but his condensation of Dickens' lengthy novel was extraordinarily well-acted and well-staged by the cast and crew.

Blithe Spirit (through Dec 17) and Great Expectations (through December 19) at A Noise Within, 234 S Brand Blvd., Glendale, CA; for schedule and tickets, visit their website or call 818.240.0910.