Monthly Archive for: ‘September, 2014’
In a post-Harry Potter, post -Charmed, hell, post-Blair Witch Project era, can a quaint little theatrical relic from the 1950’s on the subject of witchery and romance have anything to say to modern-day audiences? Well, the Spreckels Theatre Company seems to think so as they are now presenting “Bell, Book and Candle” at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park now through October 12.
Originally produced on Broadway in 1950 with Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer as the leads, John Van Druten’s play also had Hollywood take a stab at in 1958 with James Stewart and Kim Novak as the bewitched and bewitching leads. Usually a popular theatre offering around the holiday season (it’s set during Christmas-time), its most recent local run was at the San Francisco Playhouse in 2012/2013. The folks at Spreckels seem to think that the whispers of Autumn and the approach of Halloween may be just the right time to entrance some theatre-goers in checking out their Fall production.
The play is set in the extremely fashionable New York apartment of Gillian Holroyd (Liz Jahren), resident witch and downstairs neighbor to publisher Shepard Henderson (Larry Williams). Gillian, who has had plenty of “relations” but no real relationship, has her sights on Shep, who is soon to be betrothed to a woman of whom Gilian does not approve. Under the watchful eyes of her Aunt Queenie (Mary Gannon Graham) and brother Nicky (Peter Warden), Gillian tempts the fates by first entrancing Shep to fall in love with her, and then actually falling in love with Shep and putting her future as a witch in jeopardy. Putting everyone’s future as a witch in jeopardy is author Sidney Redlitch-Fong (David L. Yen), self-proclaimed expert on the subject of witchcraft, who is preparing to write a tell-all tome on all things magical.
The show has a lot going for it. You become entranced as soon as you enter the Black Box Condiotti Theatre at Spreckels and come upon one of the most eye-popping and stylish sets (design by Phil Shaw, scenic artistry by Elizabeth Bazzano) to be squeezed into the small space. The colors and detail used in the design (particularly with what I’ll simply call a closet but which is much, much more) practically lead me to declare the set a full-fledged member of the cast.
And speaking of the cast, Director Thomas Chapman has gathered five solid North Bay performers and cast them in roles that play to their strengths while allowing them opportunity to take things a little further out-there. Liz Jahren gets to put her Physical Theatre training to full use in the role of Gillian. Peter Warden adds another to his growing collection of humorous, human cartoon-character roles and adds just a touch of malevolence to it. David L. Yen threw me for a loop after seeing him as a world-weary Hanratty in Spreckels’ Catch Me If You Can. He’s not the last bit weary in this role, and though the smallest of the five roles, makes his moments count. Larry Williams, after a few shows spent bouncing around the 6th Street Playhouse stage (literally in Boeing-Boeing) surprises by effectively under-playing the role of Shep. Mary Gannon Graham continues to light up Sonoma County stages with her delightful take on the flighty Aunt Queenie. You just couldn’t help but smile upon each of her entrances. I know this is a theatrical cliché, but I’m pretty sure I would pay to just see Gannon Graham read a phone book (if they’re actually printed anymore), because she’d just have such a damn good time doing it.
So you have a great set and five talented performers. All you need is a script. And that, disappointingly, is where things go awry. Van Druten’s script is a period piece that required, according to Chapman, a scrubbing of sexist and racist language to make it more palatable to modern audiences. Chapman also made an attempt to update the script by introducing modern elements like cell phones. While phones are an important element in some scenes and sorcery can explain the lack of signal to complete a cell phone call, what kind of sorcery devises a land-line phone that can’t make a direct call?
More distracting was the constant popping-up of terms and references that will make little sense to a modern audience under the age of fifty and, perhaps in one case, under the age of one-hundred. The Kinsey Report? Un-American activities? Vaudeville? Vaudeville? Vaudeville had been dead twenty years when the play was written. It has not been revived in the interim. If Chapman’s decision was to make the piece more relevant to a modern audience by excising certain elements, I think he needed to be more thorough. Either that, or commit to the period. The mixture simply didn’t work.
What did work was that the talented cast seemed to be thoroughly enjoying what they were doing, and through the sheer power of their work (and perhaps an incantation or two), that sense of enjoyment was transferred to the audience. In “Bell, Book and Candle”, we find ourselves with a light comedy populated by some of the best comedic talent in the area. They have been called on to use all their powers and work their magic in levitating a problematic script. More often than not, they succeeded.
Bell, Book and Candle
through October 12
Thurs @ 7:30pm, Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun@ 2pm
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Photos by Eric Chazankin