Category Archive for: ‘Greg & Suzanne Angeo’

“Bell, Book and Candle” at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, Rohnert Park CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Photos by Eric Chazankin

Peter Warden as Nicky, Liz Jahren as Gillian

‘Tis the Season of the Witch

Five of the best comedic actors in the North Bay are all gathered in one small space to help usher in the season of pumpkins and hobgoblins with “Bell, Book and Candle”,  a thoroughly enjoyable if uneven show presented by the Spreckels Theatre Company.

English playwright John Van Druten was very successful in the 1930s with hit shows in the West End. His play “Bell, Book and Candle” premiered on Broadway in 1950, starring Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer. Van Druten is perhaps better known for 1951’s “I am a Camera” which served as inspiration for the musical “Cabaret”. Ultimately, “Bell, Book and Candle” also served as inspiration – for the popular television series “Bewitched”.

The story: It’s Christmastime in present-day New York City. Gillian, her brother Nicky and their Aunt Queenie form a quirky, crafty trio of witch-folk living the high life. They belong to an esoteric cult that hangs out at the underground Zodiac Club, casting spells but never seeming to get anywhere. Gillian is bored with her life and lack of romance, and decides on a vengeful whim to cast a love spell on her neighbor, a book publisher named Shep, with unintended consequences. One of his clients is an eccentric “authority” on the occult named Sidney who, despite having written a few books on magic, has no clue as to what he’s about to get into.

Larry Williams as Shep, Mary Gannon Graham as Queenie

Comedy powerhouse Liz Jahren plays Gillian as a barefoot goddess, although she’s a little too grounded in the role. She could use a bit more of a lofty, ethereal quality to make more dramatic her fall to earth as she falls in love and loses her magic powers. The usually-goofy Larry Williams as the unsuspecting Shep plays it subdued, cool and conservative, just a normal guy trying to deal with his strange new lover. Peter Warden is reliably puckish in the role of Gillian’s brother Nicky, another really fun-to-watch performance in his ever-growing repertoire. David Yen delivers an uninhibited, crazedly commanding performance as Sidney.

David Yen as Sidney

But it’s really Mary Gannon Graham who seems to be having all the fun. When she takes the stage as the zany, Bohemian flower-child Queenie, you can’t see anybody else up there. She’s absolutely shameless, and why not? With her captivating stage presence and glorious bursts of song, she casts her enchantment over the audience like a magic shawl.

Director Thomas Chapman adapted the 1950 script to a more modern setting, but some anachronistic references remain, which weaken the overall effect. He made interesting, though infrequent use of special lighting, flooding the stage with dazzling, spinning stars and other mystical effects. He was able to create simple staging, allowing the actors to move without upstaging each other. Even though the story is offbeat and wacky, the intimate space calls for just a bit more subtlety.  There is nothing subtle about Elizabeth Bazzano’s set design, which turns Gillian’s Greenwich Village apartment into something closely resembling a florid bordello.

Mary Gannon Graham, Peter Warden

“Bell, Book and Candle” is presented at the Bette Condiotti Theatre, the smaller of the two venues at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center. When these three over-the-top actors – Jahren, Warden and Graham – are onstage at the same time, the performances seem to be directed at folks way up in the balcony in a much bigger space, rather than such an intimate house. It could be dialed back just a bit to connect better with the audience just a few feet away. Nonetheless, it’s a fun, spirited show with lively pacing and fascinating characters, well worth seeing just in time for Halloween.

When: Now through October 12, 2014

8:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 9

2:00 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $22 to $26

Location: Spreckels Performing Arts Center

5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park CA
Phone: 707-588-3400

Website: www.spreckelsonline.com