CLOTA’s “Bell, Book and Candle” proves that love is the most powerful magic of all
Is love the most powerful magic of all?
This is the question posed by John Van Druten’s play “Bell, Book and Candle”.
The plot involves an existential crisis in the life of Gillian Holroyd. Gillian happens to be a witch – and one who leads a self-indulgent lifestyle, too. She doesn’t like her situation, she wants to change. But she doesn’t quite know how.
Enter Shep Henderson, the schemer who just moved into his apartment building. Gillian decides he’s the right man for her, but he doesn’t seem to know she exists.
What’s a witch to do? Impatient for normal means (for reasons explained by the play), Gillian resorts to magic to get Shep’s attention, and all kinds of unintended consequences ensue.
To say more would spoil the plot, but “Bell, Book and Candle” is considered a classic for good reason. It was also adapted for cinema in 1958, starring Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart.
The play also features members of Gillian’s wizarding family, her brother Nicky Holroyd, and her sharp-tongued Aunt Queenie, who provide charming comedic relief.
The three are not bad witches. They use their spells and powers for pranks or to make their lives easier. They also celebrate Christmas; the room opens on Christmas Eve. Van Druten may have included this detail to reassure audiences that nothing really disturbing or subversive will happen during the show.
Rounding out the cast is Sidney Redlitch, a drunken author who wrote a talk on witchcraft.
CLOTA’s current lineup includes five of the strongest actors in the community: Annie Busby as Gillian, Kevin LaBrie as Shep; Pearl Woolam as Queenie, Sam Johnson as Nicky and Ben Bockhahn as Redlitch.
This is the entire cast, and each brings some serious acting chops to their role.
Performed correctly, “Bell, Book and Candle” is one of those pieces that literally puts audiences under their spell. Judging from a dress rehearsal on Monday, this production will accomplish just that.
The play is cleverly written to take place completely within the confines of Gillian’s apartment, a fact pointed out by assistant director Grace Lloyd.
Within the space of these walls, a lot is happening and in the end, Gillian is transformed in a way that is both surprising and inevitable.
Busby does an impeccable job as Gillian. She finds nuance in every line, making Gillian a sympathetic and likeable character.
LaBrie is also perfect as Shep, finding the humanity as well as the humor in the character.
Woolam and Johnson provide excellent comedic interludes as Nicky and Queenie. Just like Bockhahn as Redlitch. These are three classic roles played by three exceptional actors.
The five performers are so good that the play feels like a professional quality production.
Larry Lier is the director. Lloyd was at the helm for rehearsal on Monday night and appeared to be doing a great job. Even nearly two weeks before opening night, there were no obvious issues and the play went smoothly and professionally.
Angie Pritchard is a lighting designer and operator, and the lights were put to good use during the rehearsal.
While the story is pointedly about witchcraft, “Bell, Book and Candle” is a comedy and not at all dark. Instead, it’s a riff on the eternal question of “What is love?” and if it’s worth the cost. (Spoiler: the answer is yes.)
Production marks a double stage for CLOTA.
“Bell, Book and Candle” is the grand reopening of the longtime theater group and the first live show after the COVID-19 closures.
It is also the second time that CLOTA presents the show. Full Disclosure: This reporter played Gillian in the 1993 Farris production of CLOTA at Heritage and is very familiar with the script. The play was also staged locally by China Lake players in the 1970s, making it the third local production.
The production will take place at the CLOTA Center Stage at 1425 N. Inyo St. in Ridgecrest.
The Daily Independent strongly recommends that everyone follow the CDC’s current pandemic safety guidelines. Check with CLOTA what guidelines will be in place for those attending performances.
Show hours are July 23, 24, 30, 31 and August 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m., doors open at 7:00 p.m., and a morning performance will take place on August 1 at 2:00 p.m. with doors open at 1:30 p.m.
General admission – $ 18
Student / Military / Senior 65+ – $ 15
CLOTA Members – $ 12
Tickets are available from Red Rock Books or online at https://clota.org/?page_id=735
Places are limited, so buy your tickets early.