Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Margaret Hamilton Sparks "Spirit"

Cleveland Press January 26, 1967

Rejoice, for Margaret Hamilton is back in town and lending magic to whatever she does. The Play House graduate, who left here in the 1920's to earn prominent places on Broadway and in Hollywood and to become part of motion picture folklore with her portrayal of the witch in "Wizard of Oz," has returned.

To be sure, she had been back once before, but that was in a small but delightful role two years ago. This time she is here in a bravura part that permits her the full range of her talents.

The role is that of Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's 1941 comedy classic, "Blithe Spirit." Now it is true that, as written, the character of the dotty spiritualist dominates the play. But Miss Hamilton goes beyond mere domination. She has taken on complete ownership.

Hers is a stare that withers, a retort that snaps, a cliche-filled dialog that emerges as a string of freshly coined phrases.

Observe her in her moment of triumph stomping across the stage, her handkerchief fluttering like a battle flag. Notice as her eyes narrow and then widen, as her lips purse, as her hands move -- tellingly, but economically. She has flawless timing and the quick sureness that allows her to cover another actor's fumble.

And while she could easily do so, she never uses a technique for its own sake, never exhibits a mannerism that doesn't add to the characterization.

Coward's comedy holds up well and the brittle lines have not gone limp. The wit still has its cutting edge.

This is the play about the awkward situation that arises when the ghost of a man's first wife moves in on him and his second wife.

The playwright's expert showmanship could hardly be improved upon, even after all these years. His dialog is as clever as ever and sounds refreshing in an age in which a series of one line gags often passes for wit.

Richard Halverson, as the troubled husband, ranges from casual comfort to anguished discomfort. Judith Adams is a high-spirited spirit and Mary Shelley is perfect as the comic maid. Jeanne Vanderbilt is glacial as the second wife.

But for all of their efforts, the show remains Margaret Hamilton's.

About the character she plays, one person in the play asks: "How good is she?"

She is very good, indeed.