Online since August 2002

Globe's 'Bell, Book and Candle' perfect summer fare

Published August 2007

By Carol Davis


Bell, Book and Candle
Written by John Van Druten
Directed by Darko Tresnjak

Cassius Carter Centre Stage
The Old Globe
1363 Old Globe Way
Balboa Park
San Diego
Through Sept. 9

"Bewitched, bothered and bewildered" is a perfect way to describe Shep Henderson as he falls head over heels in love with Gillian Holroyd when she casts her spell over him in the Old Globe's current production of John van Druten's "Bell, Book and Candle" in the Cassius Carter Center Stage theater in the round. In fact, most in the audience on opening night fell under that same spell.

Capping off a great summer season of Shakespeare (in repertory on The Festival Stage outdoors, which is still going on), Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" on the main stage, and in a bold move away from the home front, "Avenue Q" at the Spreckels Theatre downtown, and with brochures already in the mail for the Fall 2007-2008 season, "Bell Book and Candle," in it's current production, might just take the prize for the whole caboodle. Under the watchful eye and deft direction of Globe's 2004-'07 Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak, this is a slam dunk!

Van Druten's play opened on Broadway in 1950 and played for 233 performances, closing in 1951. It starred Lili Palmer and Rex Harrison as the bewitcher and the bewitched. The movie version, which starred Kim Novak, James Stewart, Ernie Kovacs, Jack Lemmon and Elsa Lanchester, more than likely was in the memory banks of the more mature audience members in the theater on opening night. The movie opened in 1958 and went on to win, among other awards, a Golden Globe in 1959. If you are a fan of old or classic movies, you might have seen it on TV. For the next generation of memories, it might be the TV show "Bewitched," which is based on the play, that sets the clock back to the days when watching TV growing up was fun as well as entertaining.

The story is pretty straightforward, if you can call witchcraft straightforward. Gillian (Melinda Page Hamilton), who hails from a long line of Holroyd witches, is smitten with her upstairs neighbor, book publisher Shepherd Henderson ( Adrian La Tourelle). He barely notices her and she would like to have a fling with him. How to get him to at least see her is the sixty-four thousand dollar question on her mind.

Bell, Book and CandleBell, Book and Candle

When he comes to her apartment to use her phone and question some strange things going on in his place, she decides to cast a spell on him and before he's able to get a foot out the door, POOF! it's love at first sight.

With the help of brother Nicky (John Lavelle), who's a warlock, and an aunt, Miss Queenie (Deborah Taylor), the more flighty and seasoned witch of the family, Shep's engagement to his fiancé Merle (a mere glitch that needs reckoning), a college rival of Gillian's, falls apart when the two tinker with Shep's phone lines and he is cut off from his other life. While he is as consumed with Gillian as she is with him, the "L" word cannot escape her lips, as he presses her to fess up to loving him as he loves her. Close, but no cigar.

According to lore, witches cannot fall in love. Nothing, however, can prevent them from having a romantic fling, though. And that's exactly what Gillian does, at first glance. Shep still doesn't get it; she loves it. They see each other day and night. The romp, they kiss, they stroll and visit galleries. He has a key to her place, they share common interests and everything seems to be coming up roses. And from there we should say they lived happily ever after.

If life were that simple, the story would end here. But, in fact, this is where the fun begins. Shep cannot get enough of Gillian. It's not difficult to understand why he is agog with his new-found love. Hamilton's Gillian is sexy, fiery, beautifully outfitted in Emily Pepper's stunningly designed '50s style clothes, as sleek as her black, magical cat Pyewacket, seductive and as magically alluring as any woman could be. She is damned convincing. La Tourelle's Shep, on the other hand, is handsomely serious, somewhat stuffy, doubtful and rather naïve about the ways outside his world, head over heels in love and much more conventional than Gillian. They are very likeable and doable together.

Both Queenie and Nicky see the changes coming over her. Queenie: "She's in love." Nicky: "Wouldn't she rather be dead?" Queenie thinks it's wonderful. Nicky's not happy. He's trying to get in on a book deal with the renowned author Sidney Redlitch (Gregor Paslawsky), who is in the process of writing about well, witches, warlocks and witchcraft. Nicky wants the affair over since it's getting in the way a lucrative income. Conversely, it is also interfering with Gillian's love life and she wants him to end the deal. Nicky is taking Redlitch to all of the witch haunts in the city and naming names. This is making Gillian a bit nervous since Shep knows nothing about her "craft" and if word gets out? Well. A battle of the brews ensues.

The tug and pull of new romance vs. old ideas, witchcraft and reality, spells and spooks, takes many twists and turns, laughter and tears (yes tears, something witches can't do or they lose their powers) along the bumpy road to a happy ending. Nicky, whose gay temperament flares and sends red flags to Gillian, since he can be pretty bitchy if he is crossed, are countered by Gillian's temper as she is about to kill Nicky's book deal. Just a little family side bar that pushes the envelope for both siblings.

That said, Lavelle's Nicky provides some of the funniest moments in the play. In one scene, he works the crowd by flamboyantly throwing his cape over his shoulders, sauntering and puffing out of Gillian's apartment in righteous indignation. In another, he taps his fingers and toes, casts a knowing glance at the audience in an "I have more power than you" attitude. We notice it from the start. When he first meets Shep, he pulls his hand away from the long handshake countering, "It's mine," in an unusually high, mocking voice while possessively tucking it under his arm. They are nice touches by both actor and director.

Deborah Taylor's Miss Queenie is another gem to remember. Hers is the quintessential daffy but caring elder family member, confidante and bumbler. Those innocent looks of hers as she blunders into one situation after another are priceless. Once again, Pepper's costumes are period appropriate, and those hats are delicious. Rounding out the cast is the fun-filled performance of Paslawsky's Sidney, whose all-too-obvious toupee becomes a prop of funny proportions.

Alexander Dodge's set design of Gillian's apartment surrounds the sunken stage in red-cushioned couches with bookcases underneath, a red shag rug, fireplace, cauldron, artifacts arranged in strategic places and a small tea table with decanters for drinks. The outside is depicted by a raised platform with paintings of New York buildings and skylines whose windows glitter at night. Matthew Richards designed the lighting. A deep frame hangs above the stage with red pillowed lining inside and another New York skyline outside. It's eye popping.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Paul Peterson's sound design with the wonderful oldies of: Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby," Rosemary Clooney's "Hey There" and Frank Sinatra's "Witchcraft" coming in at appropriate intervals.

I can't remember when I've had so much fun with a play. I fell for it Bell, Book and Candle!

See you at the theater.

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