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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Bell, Book, and Candle
Long Wharf Theatre

Bell, Book and Candle
Kate MacCluggage
Bell, Book, and Candle, directed by Darko Tresnjak, plays Long Wharf Theatre until April 1st and then journeys up Interstate 91 before opening at Hartford Stage on April 5th. At either venue, those who love witchery and the 1950s will appreciate this catchy comedy from the get-go. Even skeptics who might find the forty-five minute opening act a bit trying will probably tune into the sweet and clever comedy midway through the second act.

The play was written by John van Druten, but many tend to recall the 1958 film version with Kim Novak, James Stewart and Jack Lemmon. Tresnjak makes a very wise decision by casting appealing Kate MacCluggage as Gillian Holroyd (witch, warlock ...) in the current production. Tall and enticing, Gillian has her eyes on the man who lives upstairs, Shep Henderson, (Robert Eli) who happens, on Christmas Eve early in 1950s Manhattan, to require the use of her telephone.

While a witch is incapable of falling in love, she is evidently quite able to lust after someone. Meanwhile, Shep is planning to marry Merle Kittridge (only mentioned) whom Gillian did not especially adore when the two women were in college. Gillian's trusted black cat Pyewacket is so displeased with Gillian, that the cat simply takes off when it becomes apparent that Gill is after Shep—no matter what.

It so happens that Sidney Redlitch (Gregor Paslawsky) is compiling research for a book on witchery, and Gillian's brother Nicky (Michael Keyloun) will assist in publishing it. Nicky, too, is empowered yet he is, well, pretty silly. Actress Ruth Williamson plays Aunt Queenie, who is scattered, ditzy, and definitely a hoot.

Somewhere along the line, Gillian comes clean with Shep and admits that she possesses powers. These two have it out and Shep leaves; soon thereafter, because she really does have feelings for a man who is human, Gillian finds she no longer has the ability to cast spells.

That is when Bell, Book, and Candle becomes far more enticing. The role of Gillian showcases MacCluggage's versatile array of talents. She is suitably disciplined as a witch and she is cute, lovely, and filled with feeling as a sensitive young woman. A Connecticut native who was an undergraduate at Wesleyan University, MacCluggage takes the spotlight in John van Druten's play. When the script moves toward romance, she instantly transforms.

Alexander Dodge, designing, bathes Gillian's apartment in bright red: carpeting, comfortable chair, and so forth. The scenic design frames the stage with neat hints of New York cityscape. The pivotal cat is immobile and solid. Fabio Toblini, costuming, dresses Gillian in perfect period outfits.

John van Druten's play could be interpreted on a couple of levels. It appears to be fairly simple and shifts into romantic comedy mode which is perfectly fine. On the other hand, might the English playwright who lived during the first half of the twentieth century be trying to say something more about the world of spirits? Maybe.

Director Tresnjak has selected most fitting music. He chooses classic Sinatra singing "Witchcraft" and a melodic, female vocal rendition of "Hey There (You with the Stars in Your Eyes)," which is provided twice. Further, the director's touch is deft as he fluently moves the five-person cast in and out of the apartment.

Bell, Book, and Candle continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through April 1. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org. Hartford Stage hosts the production from April 5-29. For tickets in Hartford, call (860) 527-5151; or see www.hartfordstage.org.


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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