Bell, Book, and Candle

Local Arts Reviews


Bell, Book, and Candle

Dougherty Arts Center, through Sept. 12

Running time: 2 hrs, 5 min

Magic is a funny thing ... well, in the modern world. It may not have been so amusing in Salem a few centuries back, but now? There's something inherently comic in having this ancient, primal, mystical force at work in our technologically advanced, oh-so-sophisticated society. The contrast of magic and martinis, incantations and income taxes, spells and sports cars, has an incongruity that tickles us, and we lap it up. Just ask J.K. Rowling.

But before there was Harry Potter, before there were witches in Eastwick, before Samantha Stephens even, Gillian Holroyd was practicing magic in the modern world. The heroine of John Van Druten's 1950 stage comedy was a witch in contemporary New York, beginning to tire of the devil-may-care life of a sorceress and yearning for something more. That's when she meets a mortal man in her apartment building and sets her pointed cap for him. A little spell disentangles him from another woman's arms and propels him into hers, but will it be able to keep him there? And what will her fellow witches and warlocks say?

Like the sitcom spellbinder who came after her, Gillian wants a relationship with someone who's "not her kind," and it's a source of friction – with her intended, who's not entirely comfortable with the things she can do, and certain members of her family, with whom the idea of a mixed marriage is not popular. Anyone who's seen even one episode of Bewitched can predict the story's complications and resolution without a crystal ball. But that doesn't keep the show from being entertaining, certainly not as produced by Onstage Theatre Company.

Director Michael Stuart and his cast clearly appreciate the script's old-fashioned virtues – the meet-cute between the lovers, the comic supporting characters, the tender embrace at the curtain – and they honor them with a production that satisfies in an old-fashioned way, with hearty laughter and contented sighs. Emily Erington's Gillian has some of the same strengths as Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha: a wholesome appeal and honesty spiced with streaks of flirtatiousness and mischief. We can feel both her inner desire for something richer from life and the less spiritual desire she feels for Shepherd Henderson. And Brian Jepson gives us a good idea of what Gillian sees in Shep; he's smart, courteous, warm, and true – cut from the same cloth as a young Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda. Complicating their affair are Gillian's brother Nicky, played by Rod Mechem with a subdued impishness that suggests a cat waiting to pounce; Gillian's Aunt Queenie, brought to giddy life here with a gleeful cackle by Lana Dieterich in leopard-print blouse and jewelry dripping off her ears, wrists, and neck; and professor Sidney Redlitch, a tipsy author embodied by Richard Craig with eyes and hands that bob and weave like drunks leaving a bar. Watching all these actors conjure comic bits seemingly from nowhere is as pleasing as seeing a rabbit pulled from a hat. In their most able hands, magic is indeed a funny thing.

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Bell, Book, and Candle, John Van Druten, OnStage Theatre Company, Michael Stuart, Emily Erington, Brian Jepson, Rod Mechem, Lana Dieterich, Richard Craig

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