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Ghosts from my past

A couple of months ago, the Waterworks Players announced auditions for a forthcoming production of “Blithe Spirit,” a comedy by Noel Coward that was first staged in the 1940s. If you’re not familiar with the play, let me briefly recap. The story focuses on a novelist by the name of Charles Condomine who wants to research the occult for a book he’s writing. He invites a medium to his home to conduct a séance. Although not immediately apparent to everyone, the procedure summons the ghost of Elvira, Charles’s first wife who had died seven years previously. I don’t want to give away the plot, so let’s just say household mayhem results.

The announcement caught my eye for two reasons. I enjoy playing the role of “audience member” for the Waterworks Players, and I was glad to know what production was in development. Secondly, “Blithe Spirit” is a play with which I have a haunted history. My hands may have trembled slightly when I read about its imminent arrival in Farmville.

I cannot say for sure that “Blithe Spirit” was the first staged play I ever attended, but it is the first one I remember. And, I remember it vividly. I was in elementary school, and my mother taught at a high school in a neighboring community. Students there performed the play on a stage in a multipurpose auditorium/gymnasium before a crowd seated on bleachers and in rows of folding metal chairs. More than half a century later, I can still recall the stage setting: the cozy drawing room atmosphere, the wallpaper, the fireplace, the window.

From my vantage point in one of the cold chairs, I heard an unseen character knock on a wall. I saw things move inexplicably, and then a ghost appeared in full view. My own mental capability had not yet matured to the point where I could reliably differentiate between fiction and reality. This was something I could see with my own eyes. I was terrified. All around me, people laughed, but I squirmed, mesmerized by the horror of it all.

To give you an idea regarding how seriously the playwright expected audiences to take the production’s content, the work’s subtitle is “an improbable farce in three acts.” In retrospect, I can appreciate that everyone else in the audience knew this. My younger self, however, didn’t have the wisdom to read or understand the subtitle.

As I grew older and learned more of the world and of the role literary works played in elucidating the human psyche, I came to love the various vehicles storytellers use to tell tales. Theatrical productions, movies, books, poems and even song lyrics. I discovered the joys of looking beyond the surface to consider an author’s intent and to ferret out symbolic representations of humanity’s narrative.

On some deep-seated emotional level, however, I never fully recovered from my early encounter with “Blithe Spirit.” Although the rational part of my brain tells me that I don’t believe in ghosts, my husband says, “Yes, you do.” He has a point. I can listen to tales of murder plots and police intrigue. I can manage encounters with space aliens and monsters. I can appreciate psychological thrillers, but I avoid ghosts because they are too scary. Subconsciously and contrary to logic, I apparently do believe in ghosts. “Blithe Spirit” has haunted me for almost my entire life.

Now, thanks to the Waterworks Players, I’m going to have the opportunity to visit again with Charles Condomine and watch with adult eyes his ill-fated exploration of the spirit world. I hope I’ll be able to understand the things I couldn’t as a young child. Things like the complexities and jealousies involved in human relationships. Things like how the play may have helped audience members confront their own ghosts within the safety of the playhouse.

The Waterworks Players’ will offer “Blithe Spirit” to the public during evening performances Oct. 12, 13, 18 and 20 at 8 p.m. and a matinee Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. For more information visit their website waterworksplayers.org. I hope I will be brave enough to be there.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@ PierPress.com.