Coward, She Played
This entry isn't really about much, except what fun it was to go to New York--after much too long away--and see a living legend perform in a play by a not-too-long-deceased legend. (Noel Coward has been gone since 1973, but since I was old enough then to know who he was and why he was famous--and even remember seeing him in such throwaway movies as "Surprise Package" and the original "Italian Job"--it doesn't seem that long to me.)
It's no news to report that Angela Lansbury--after 83 years on this planet, nearly all of which have been spent in the theater--has lost none of her charisma or her comic timing. (The goofy, ingratiating grin she gives Jayne Atkinson, in admitting she has no idea how to undo the spell she cast, is something glorious and unique to Angela Lansbury.) It is delightful and heartening, however, to see that as Madame Arcati in "Blithe Spirit," she can still move across a stage as gracefully as she did 30 years ago in "Sweeney Todd." I remember John Gielgud on "The Dick Cavett Show," talking about his great-aunt Ellen Terry, moving paintully toward the stage bent over a cane, casting off the years and dancing a merry jig as soon as she stepped on the boards. I have no knowledge of Miss Lansbury's current offstage physical condition; all I can say is, onstage for "Blithe Spirit," she never seemed better. It is such a pleasure to review Miss Lansbury's career--from the saucy wench in "Gaslight" to the dragon mom of "The Manchurian Candidate," the unparalled string of Broadway triumphs including "Mame" and "Sweeney Todd," and the utter charm of "Murder, She Wrote," in which she became everybody's favorite companion for Sunday tea. To all those roles she has brought elegance, technical brilliance, and an astonishing emotional range. It is impossible to think of a role Miss Lansbury has played in which she didn't seem exactly right--quite a tribute, when you consider the length of her career and the extraordinary variety of the role she's played. In roles that call for it, she can freeze your gizzards; but it is the roles of warmth and eccentric humor--such as Madame Arcati--that have made her beloved, and that blessedly seem like the real woman. By all reports, she is universally beloved by her colleagues, and her infrequent interviews reveal a woman of great warmth and kindness. That makes her career that much more pleasant to contemplate--that good things, after all, DO happen to good people.
Of course Angela Lansbury isn't the whole show in "Blithe Spirit." Rupert Everett is a perfect Cowardesque cad, Jayne Atkinson is delightfully shockable, and Christine Ebersole is an enchanting champagne ditz. (Kudos also should go to Susan Louise O'Connor, hilariously lovable as the hapless maid Edith.) But when Miss Lansbury made her entrance, there was no question from the audience's reaction whom they had come to see. May we all have more opportunities to do so.