Directed by – Patsy Daussat
Set Design – Rick Daussat
Costume Design – Amber Sebastian
Sound Design – Bryan Holladay
Lighting Design – Kristin M Burgess
Props Design – Mary Gail Masters
Stage Manager – Laurie Grissom
Jill Lightfoot – Gillian Holroyd
David Johnson – Shepard Henderson
Judy Bauman Blalock – Miss Holroyd
Brian Brissman – Nicky Holroyd
Neal Gregory – Sidney Redlitch
Squishy Brissman – Pyewacket
Reviewed Performance 9/30/2016
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
John Van Druten’s enchanting comedy Bell, Book and Candle was first presented on Broadway in November of 1950, starring Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer, running for 233 performances. It went on to become a movie starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Jack Lemmon in 1958. The film would be nominated for two Academy Awards and was also a popular hit.
Period pieces, especially those that have been made into movies with famous stars, are often hard for a small theatre company to pull off. Fortunately, this isn’t the case at Runway Theatre, where they have a completely charming production of Bell, Book and Candle running through October 9.
The first thing we as the audience see is Rick Daussat’s stunning set, beautifully decorated in mid-1950s style by Judy Bauman Blalock. From the front door intercom to the mysterious masks on the walls, and from the ornate fireplace against a mottled brick wall to the period sofa, this may well be one of the best sets I’ve seen all year. And I loved the fact that when the front door slammed, nothing moved! I really appreciated the excellent craftsmanship by Mr. Daussat, who also served as master carpenter. Kristin M Burgess’ lighting design was spotlighted (see what I did there?) by the use of lamps and practical lighting fixtures, which only enhanced the playing space.
Bryan Holladay’s sound design was also spot on, with various 1950s renditions of “Witchcraft” and other appropriate songs helping to set the mood before the show and between scenes. Buzzers, phone rings, and other sound effects were also appropriate to the period, and they matched Mary Gail Masters’ props beautifully.
The plot of Bell, Book and Candle is rather simple: A modern-day witch becomes friends with her neighbor but because she despises his fiancée, she casts a spell on him to love her instead, only to fall in love with him for real. But a witch can’t fall in love without losing her powers.
Jill Lightfoot is Gillian Holroyd, our witch, and she plays the role with a slightly wicked glee, as befits a modern-day witch, and she obviously enjoys herself as both the actress and the character. She’s not a bad witch, but she likes to get her revenge on those who have wronged her. Unfortunately for her neighbor Shepard Henderson, his fiancée is not one of Gillian’s favorite people. David Johnson plays the love-struck Shep perfectly, as someone who is completely and utterly enamored...until he learns the truth, and then his confusion and anger are nicely layered on well. He and Ms. Lightfoot have wonderful chemistry together and her heartbreak as she realizes not only that she has lost her powers but WHY she lost them is beautifully done.
Judy Bauman Blalock plays Gillian’s eccentric aunt, listed in the program as Miss Holroyd but referred to more frequently as Aunt Queenie. While occasionally hard to understand because she is talking too fast or gets too quiet, Ms. Blalock plays Queenie as a delightful flibbertigibbet who freely admits she’s not a very talented witch. She loves the idea of Gillian meeting a nice man, despite the old wives’ tales about losing your powers if you fall in love, and is simply adorable as she encourages their relationship.
It is here that I MUST compliment Amber Sebastian’s fabulous costumes. Ms. Sebastian has perfectly costumed Queenie in brilliantly colored, flowing layers, all complementing her bright red wig, making her look all the world like a sweeter version of Agnes Moorehead’s Endora from Bewitched. (I really hope that was the intention.)
Ms. Sebastian’s excellent costumes don’t stop there. Everyone looked absolutely perfect. Gillian’s sweater set with pencil skirt and her period dresses looked marvelous on her, and even the men (who are always more difficult to costume than women in period shows) were well-attired, complete with short ties and hats.
While the show IS a comedy, if I had to pick out the comedy relief it would have to be Brian Brissman as Gillian’s warlock brother Nicky. Mr. Brissman truly has a rubber face, and coupled with his superb comic timing, he manages to steal almost every scene he’s in.
Neal Gregory plays author Signey Redlitch with a fine amount of layers, as he is drunk in the first scene and worried he’s going to have a nasty spell cast on him in the next. Playing drunk believably is not easy, and Mr. Gregory does a nice job with it. When we see him next, he is stone cold sober and rather scared, which he also depicts with aplomb.
Rounding out the cast is Pyewacket the cat, Gillian’s familiar, portrayed by Squishy Brissman. While Squishy wasn’t included in the curtain call, he (or she?) was amazingly calm and still during his scenes. As someone who is owned by two cats, myself, I know that this is not always the case.
Bell, Book and Candle are one of those classic plays that isn’t done much anymore, but it should be. While the pace was a tad slow at the beginning, there is a lot of exposition that needs to happen, which might explain why director Patsy Daussat had her cast moving so much - to try to liven up the “talking heads.” Once the plot got underway, Ms. Daussat’s cast relaxed into their roles somewhat and the show started to move a little faster. Overall, it was a first-rate production and I had a great time seeing some magnificent performances.
Runway Theatre is one of those “under the radar” companies in the Metroplex. They generally do outstanding work, yet they don’t get the kudos of some of the more popular small theatres so for some reason I’m always pleasantly surprised when I enjoy myself at their shows. I shouldn’t be.
Do yourself a favor and go see Bell, Book and Candle before it closes. It’s extremely well done, and I think you’ll find yourself as enchanted as I was.
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE
Runway Theatre, 215 N. Dooley St., Grapevine, TX 76051
Runs through October 9.
Actual days: Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. Tickets are $17-20. For info and to purchase tickets, go to www.runwaytheatre.com or call the box office at 817-488-4842.