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Bell, Book and Candle casts a spell deeper than romance

click to enlarge Handsome bachelor Shepherd Henderson (Jude Bishop) - finds himself bewitched by Gillian Holroyd (Lisa Siebert). - COURTESY OF THE STAR BAR PLAYERS
  • Courtesy of the Star Bar Players
  • Handsome bachelor Shepherd Henderson (Jude Bishop) finds himself bewitched by Gillian Holroyd (Lisa Siebert).

Film buffs will remember the 1958 Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak version of Bell, Book and Candle, but the original play by John Van Druten seldom is staged. The Star Bar Players at the Lon Chaney Theatre have distinguished themselves over the past few years by locating and staging forgotten stories like this one.

Bell, Book and Candle is a Harry Potter story for adults, without all the life-and-death trappings, a romantic comedy with magic. But underneath the hijinks-laden plot lies some interesting social commentary.

Gillian Holroyd (Lisa Siebert) is part of a network of real-life witches, and her apartment is the site for her family -- Aunt Queenie (Clemie Cyburt) and brother Nicky (Chad Siebert) -- to meet and gossip about the other witches who run wild in Manhattan.

More prone to potions and spell-casting than wiggles of the nose, these witches behave less Samantha from "Bewitched" and more Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream. In fact, many consider this play to have inspired the popular "I married a witch" TV comedies of the 1960s.

The action opens with Gillian expressing doubts about the practice of magic. But when Aunt Queenie initiates a harmless series of pranks on the handsome bachelor upstairs, Shepherd Henderson (Jude Bishop), Gillian casts a love spell on him. He eagerly falls under her spell and into her sheets.

When neophyte witchcraft biographer and noted tippler Sidney Redlitch (David E. Mason) mystically arrives, spinning tales of witches in Mexico, Gillian's spells begin to unravel. And a feud with Nicky finds Gillian dealing with even more problems.

The association between Gillian's special powers and her desire to find love addresses the fuzzy ethics of love spells, but also assumes a cautionary tone from the pre-feminist era in which the play was written. What happens to a woman's power when she falls in love? Must a woman sacrifice all agency in order to achieve true affection?

A gay man in intolerant times, playwright Van Druten was keenly aware of the hidden, secret systems necessary to survive in society. Alongside Gillian's personal journey is a deeper allegory about the gay community, as taboo as magic at the time. Sidney gives an impassioned and revealing speech about his discovery of this "other" world.

Director Mark Hennessy's creative staging moves the story along, so the single setting of Gillian's apartment never becomes tedious. The characters travel constantly from the bar to the sofa, and to the bar again.

The Sieberts, married newcomers to Colorado Springs, have excellent chemistry as brother and sister, and Bishop's transition from deadpan to passionate as he falls under the love spell is positively transformative. The rare moments of physical comedy are a treat.

Regardless of the deeper meanings within the play, this comedy of errors can best be summed up by the simple advice, which, according to Nicky, is written on every bottle of love potion: "Shake well, and never tell."

-- Bettina Swigger

capsule

Bell, Book, and Candle

Lon Chaney Theatre, 221 E. Kiowa St.

Nov. 4, 11, 12, 13 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: $15, general admission; call 573-7411 or e-mail reservations@starbarplayers.org.

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