Thursday, March 22, 2012

Theater Review: Bell, Book & Candle -- Long Wharf

Michael Keyloun, Ruth Williamson and Kate MacCluggage. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Bewitching Tale of Romance, Magic in 1950s Manhattan
By Lauren Yarger
Snap your fingers and you'll see Samantha, a witch married to mortal Darrin Stevens and trying to live life without witchcraft in the popular 1960s television sitcom "Betwitched." Twitch your nose, and travel back in time, and you'll see the inspiration for that: "Bell, Book and Candle," the 1958 motion picture starring Kim Novak, James Stewart and Jack Lemmon.

But before all that was the original 1950 stage play by John Van Druten that inspired it all. Directed by Hartford Stage's new Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak, the comedy gets a modern-day run at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, then moves on to co-producer Hartford Stage.

A bewitchingly beautiful Kate MacCluggage plays Gillian Holroyd, a witch who sets her sights on mortal Shepherd Henderson (Robert Eli) who lives upstairs from her red-swathed, moonlit New York apartment (Alexander Dodge's set evokes a modern look for 1950, complete with a rotating circle won the floor onderfully lighted by Matthew Richards). Shep hardly notices Gillian, though, and after she discovers that he is engaged to her former college rival, she uses some magic to make him hers.

With the help of her cat (a statue with some sound effects), her warlock brother, Nicky (Michael Keyloun), and her witchy aunt Queenie (Ruth Williamson), Gillian casts a romantic spell that brings the two together romantically. How can he resist? MacCluggage exudes a sexy, cat-like charm and Fabio Toblini's classic period costumes (and an evening wrap that is to die for) create a breathtaking vision and Shep is bewitched.

In a further effort to please her editor lover, Gillian uses her powers to summon Sidney Redlitch (Gregor Paslawsky), an author who writes about closeted witches who live right under everyone's noses in New York City. Shep might just publlish his work, until Nicky's interference starts an otherwordly clash affecting everyone.

The dark comedy delves into subtle questions of family, loyalty and even homosexuality, a taboo topic for 1950, as Gillian decides whether she wants to be with Shep even if that isn't what he really wants.

Tresnjak does a good job of keeping the action interesting despite a fairly week three-act play that runs way too long at two and a half hours.

Catch this engaging production at Long Wharf's Stage I through April 1. Tickets at Long Wharf Theatre are $40-$70 and can be purchased by visiting

The show moves to Hartford Stage April 5-29. Info at

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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