By: Walter Ruff
It’s a classic story of supernatural love and crafty trickery. Bell, Book and Candle is a wonderful play, originally brought to the stage in 1950 and to film eight years later. Vpstart Crow has mounted a fantastic production of this off beat love story for the Halloween season. John William Van Druten’s play is pleasantly nostalgic and a great choice for this feisty troupe of suburban players. VPstart Crow is the theatre in residence at the Cramer Center in Old Towne Manassas where the surroundings are perfect for a Fall afternoon away from the city.
The tale takes place in New York circa 1950 where a fetching, alluring and powerful witch Gillian Holroyd (McCall Farrell), acquires a romantic interest in an upstairs border Sheppard Henderson (Matthew Craig) and plots to win his affections with a bit of spell casting of a seemingly harmless nature. Not as harmless as she had envisioned, Sheppard is preparing to propose to his fiancé (a former catty college friend) that very night! Already forewarned by her whimsical aunt Queenie (Jan Boulet) — who practices sorcery in an upstairs apartment — that falling in love could take away all of her powers, Gillian decides not to be road blocked by such a minor detail and proceeds to cast her spell. Poor Sheppard is immediately caught in her web of romance and he places a call to his future wife to break the engagement.
When author Sidney Redlitch (Bob Lavery) is summoned through magical means, he begins to research a book on local witchcraft with Gillian’s warlock brother Nicky (Jay Tilley) that causes Gillian’s plans to unravel. Sheppard learns of the spell that entrapped him in this wacky love affair and pays to have his own spell cast by a friendly local witch for hire. Free from her fetching powers they part ways — Gillian having lost her powers gets a day job and Sheppard goes back to the publishing world. Now, any lover of 50s romantic comedy knows this tale will have a happy ending and Bell Book and Candle does not disappoint. Gillian and Shep both realize love conquers all, at least in romances from yesteryear and the story ends with our two leads in a loving embrace with hints of happiness ever after.
McCall Farrell gives an enchanting performance as Gillian and I waited patiently for a wiggle of her nose ala Bewitched that never came. She had me believing that she may have powers of the supernatural on and off stage and I am not normally a believer in such things. Not so convincing was Matthew Craig who was not plausible as Sheppard leaving the budding romance underdeveloped. Jay Tilley as Nicky and Jan Boulet as Queenie are the comic thread that holds the whole yarn together and both give splendid portrayals of their zany characters; in fact, I noticed smiles and grins on the faces of audience members at every stage entrance. A special mention must be made of the performance by Bob Lavery as the alcoholic occult expert and writer that had me thinking of the late Foster Brooks. Least I forget the cast members of the animal world there is Pyewacket, Gillian’s black ball of fur that helps her cast those spells and hocus-pocus.
The set design was adequate depicting a haunted mansion in the country but I wished for a more New York brownstone look that would be true to the script. The costumes were well conceived and Ms Farrell’s attire gave her a sultry bohemian look that consummate for the character. The piano interludes between scenes were well done and fit quite well within the overall design.
This romantic comedy harkens back to theatre from a different era and VPStart Crow pulls it off with lots of seasonal charm. Both Ms. Farrell and Mr. Tilley provide performances that entertain and will certainly bring a smile to your face. Chances are you may be a bit bewitched.
opening October 7th and running through October 23rd. Performances are on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Tickets are available through Tickets.com, or by visiting Cramer’s Music and Taboret Art Supplies on the Church Street side of the building. Adults are $20, Students/Seniors/City and County Employees are $15. For Group Sales, Subscriber reservations, or more information, please call (703) 365-0240