deal more skill at repartee: the middle-aged Condomines usually pass the time swatting each other's witticisms, and as the play opens, they've arranged a special diversion for their privileged, irreverent selves and a few friends they've invited the local spiritualist/nutcase over for dinner and a séance. To Mr. Condomine's surprise, the evening conjures the spirit of his departed first wife. As comedy (or, for that matter, tragedy) would demand, he begins to find her more alluring than his present spouse.
Imagine Ethan Frome as farce, and that pretty much sums up the rest of the plot: boy has girl, boy meets girl, boy is condemned for eternity wishing he'd never met either girl.
For a play as weightless and evanescent as this one, it has some delightfully good ballast anchoring it to this world. The heavy set, of damask and polished wood, would probably fool the queen herself (it is appropriately stocked wall to wall with dead ancestors and assorted taxidermy, all gazing on the proceedings like a sort of gallery of spooks). The costumes come from whatever extraordinary reservoir the Purple Rose draws from when it does these midcentury period pieces (I was equally infatuated with last summer's Born Yesterday wardrobe, from roughly the same era). And for all the fluffiness, it clocks in at a very nonfluffy three acts and two intermissions.
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