Tacoma Little Theatre’s current production is the magical comedy “Bell, Book and Candle” by John Van Druten.
Van Druten was London’s West End’s darling of the late 1920’s until he crossed the pond in 1940ish and became Broadway’s fair-haired boy during the 1950’s and migrated to Hollywood a few years later.
Van Druten wrote many plays and screenplays. Among some of his most famous works were “Leave Her to Heaven,” “The voice of the Turtle,” “I Remember Mama,” and in 1951, a little play called “I am a Camera,” to which John Kander and Fred Ebb added music and words and released it as “Cabaret.”
But in 1950, almost 15 years before Samantha twitched her nose and Darren suffered his never-ending conflict with Endora, Van Druten wrote “Bell, Book and Candle,” the story of a modern-day, beautiful witch living in New York City who sets her cap for a mortal man.
“Bell, Book and Candle,” is ably directed by Brett Carr, a tried-and-true local director, who returns to TLT to add another notch to his long list of credits. Carr’s cast is small with only six actors. Gillian Holroyd; her aunt, Queenie Holroyd, who lives in the upstairs apartment, across from Shepherd Henderson, our mortal publisher; Nicky Holroyd, Gillian’s flamboyant warlock brother; Pyewacket, the cat – Gillian’s familiar who helps her perform her magic; and a summoned author Sidney Redlitch
As usual, the director is given an amazing set by resident designer, Blake R. York, who also does the sound design. York gives the audience a glimpse into the posh apartment which is adjacent to the unique African art shop of our heroine, Gillian Holroyd, a glamorous witch in the upper echelon of the city’s coven. The apartment is elegant in its simplicity, with a high mantel over an off-center fireplace which exhibits a gentle fire, setting the scene for the Christmas season, in which the play takes place. The center focal point is a large portrait above the mantel, drawing the audience’s eyes to its captivating beauty.
Some of the items displayed in her home come from Gillian’s shop. Thanks to Prop Master Jeffery Weaver, who dresses the set with magical bits and pieces, including a wonderful mask. Michele Graves does the costume design, choosing some very appropriate items for Aunt Queenie’s character. Niclas Olson is the lighting designer. Nena Curley is Stage Manager.
Carr’s cast is a true example of community theatre. The director has selected two new-to-the stage thespians; two new-to-TLT performers, one regular from TLT’s stable and one very old return-to-the- stage actor.
Max Christofferson is brother Nicky Holroyd. Christofferson trods the boards for the first time in this role and does it justice. He doesn’t steal any scenes, rather adds to them with a good characterization of the role of the witty warlock.
Jed Slaughter is well-known to TLT audiences and never lets them down. Slaughter’s Shepherd Henderson is the ultimate of slightly disgruntled professional man, a book publisher, whose space is being encroached upon. He shows his dislike for the situation as easily as he shows his like for his landlady. When Gillian says she may be able to introduce him to the author who has had a recent hit with his books about witchcraft, Slaughter shows Henderson’s delight. That feeling is easily translated to the audience, as is his disdain for the way she accomplishes her goal.
Margo Collins is a beautiful 6-year-old, sleek black cat who plays her debut stage role of Pyewacket to perfection. Collins never misses an entrance, a line, or a purr. She enchants the audience each time she appears on stage.
Victoria Ashley, a newcomer to Tacoma, hence TLT, is Gillian Holroyd. This glamorous BFA acting grad comes to TLT at the perfect time to take on the role of the witch with an itch for a fling with a human. Ashley is as surprised as the audience when it turns out to be “the real thing” and she reacts aptly.
Wendy Cohen is zany Aunt Queenie, who never tries to disguise her witchcraft abilities – at least not much – and only when reigned in
by her niece. Cohen brings a long list of Puget Sound experiences with her to the role. She is a real charmer as the eccentric enchantress who enjoys doing little “tricks” on unsuspecting prey. Cohen’s characterization is right on.
Michael Storslee returns to the TLT stage after a long hiatus from theatre in the captivating role of Sidney Redlitch, the author who insists on learning more of the ins-and-outs of witches in New York to go with his book of witchcraft in Mexico. Redlitch is summoned to New York in a drunken stupor. He is Gillian’s gift to Shep, who wants to sign the author for his next book, which, unbeknownst to Gillian, he is writing with Nicky. Storslee pulls out all the stops, sliding into home-plate upon his return to the stage. The only thing Redlitch likes more than writing is drinking and the only thing Storslee likes more than acting is making the audience laugh; his character and the actor both accomplish their desires. Don’t go away again, Michael, we missed you.
“Bell, Book and Candle,” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through Sunday, November 11 at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee Sundays. A special “Pay-What-You-Can” performance is scheduled for Thursday, November 8 at 7:30 p.m.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
“Bell, Book and Candle” is a different kind of love story, yet it follows the rules of almost every love story. Each who seeks love has to give more than 60 percent to the other half of the would-be match. In BBC, Shep must accept Gillian’s upbringing and Gillian must confront Shep’s non-acceptance of her lifestyle. The final scene of our love story tells that true love reigns when Shep puts his arms around a crying Gillian to console her and she says, “I’m only human.”
Have a lovely time when you come to TLT to enjoy this magical theatrical experience.