Love in the Time of Witchcraft
by Michael Dresdner
|L to R: Victoria Ashley (Gillian), Jed Slaughter (Shepherd) All photos by Dennis K Photography|
Just in time for Halloween, Tacoma Little Theatre’s second play of its 100th year is Bell, Book, and Candle, a 1950s era romantic dramedy with a witch as its main character. As it was written, it was set in New York’s Greenwich Village, then a hotbed of artistic eccentricity. This production moves it to the more upscale Murray Hill neighborhood in the late 1960s, though I’m not sure why.
Gillian Holroyd (Victoria Ashley) is a beautiful, statuesque witch with a cat named Pyewacket as her familiar. She, her Aunt Queenie (Wendy Cohen) and her brother Nicky (Max Christofferson) all have magical powers that they use with surprising frequency for thoroughly selfish reasons.
|L to R: Victoria Ashley (Gillian), Max Christofferson (Nicky), Wendy Cohen (Queenie)|
For instance, she causes her hapless neighbor and tenant, Sheppard Henderson (Jed Slaughter) to fall irrationally in love with her. She does this not because she loves him, (witches, we are told, can’t fall in love) but merely because she finds him interesting and wants to break up his imminent engagement to a woman she hated in college. This seems a far cry from the behavior of the real Wicca community.
|Victoria Ashley (Gillian), Jed Slaughter (Shepherd)|
She, Nicky, and Queenie proceed to use magic spells to upend Shepherd’s life while she keeps him in thrall, both physically and emotionally. Gillian does this with the help of her familiar, a real live cat who was surprisingly cooperative on stage. A minor complication comes in the form of Sidney Redlitch (Mike Storslee), an “expert” who writes books exposing the existence of modern day witchcraft.
|L to R: Mike Storslee (Redlitch), Victoria Ashley (Gillian)|
The fly in the ointment is that if witches fall in love, they lose their magical powers. It takes most of the play for Gillian to figure out that she loves Shepherd enough to give up her “charmed” life in order to be with him. But by then it may be too late; he’s aware that he’s been manipulated by a real witch.
There are some excellent actors on stage working with a production, directed by Brett Carr, that is heavy on dialogue and low on action. They’re backed up with flawless technical support.
The set, by Blake York with dressing and props by Jeffrey Weaver and amazing painting by Jen York, is beyond gorgeous. Heck, even I would like to live in that apartment. It’s worth seeing this play just for the set, but it doesn’t end there. Costumes by Michele Graves are impressive, as is lighting by Niclas Olson. Considering all the difficulties of this production, stage manager Nena Curley also deserves a nod, as does Pyewacket’s trainer, Alyshia Collins.
But can we digress a little? If you’ll allow me a bit of armchair analysis, what bothered me about this play was a dark undercurrent of 50s sensibility – or lack thereof – concerning the “battle of the sexes.” Women in general, it was felt in some quarters, were mysterious and had sexual power over men who were in turn powerless to control their behavior. The most chilling aspect of that common mindset was that once she falls in love, a woman (in this case Gillian) loses all her power.
Perhaps it’s best not to think about it too deeply and instead go with the conceit that this is merely a fanciful journey into “Love, Witchcraft Style.”
Bell, Book, and Candle
Oct 26 to Nov 11, 2018
Tacoma Little Theatre