It's not like Endora didn't have a head for names. She was a witch, for God's sake, and it's a cinch her package included some kind of super-talent for recall. That's what made it so ironic when she'd blank on son-in-law Darren Stevens' name on the old Bewitched TV series. And if you think about it, her disdain for him was entirely justified. Darren was a putzy, pussified wet noodle whose reason for living was cut from under him with the advent of the frost-free refrigerator.
Darren worked on TV the way Shepherd Henderson reads in a 1950 play called Bell, Book and Candle, one of The Old Globe Theatre's summer entries. Lore says this play inspired Bewitched, which makes Shep Darren's predecessor--and while he's not as geeky as the TV version, he's definitely a sucker for a pretty face. In this case, the face belongs to Gillian Holroyd (Melinda Page Hamilton), Shep's landlady and a witch herself. Hip, sassy Manhattanite Gil has mutual feelings for Shep (Adrian LaTourelle), and she acts on them with a spell that sends Shep's engagement into the crapper.
Poor thing gets more than she bargained for. She's fallen for a mortal, and the witch police don't take kindly. She loses her powers and alienates her family; even her cat runs away.
As written by John van Druten and directed by Darko Tresnjak, this show has a decent follow-through and a watchable subtext sequence about a book proposal on witchcraft. And check out John Lavelle as Nicky, Gillian's warlock brother--he's got the best role in the show, and he exploits its bipolar nature extremely well. But there's theater and then there's theatricality; here, the latter's in short supply. Van Druten hasn't written a play so much as stenciled it, fleshing out the characters' roles while neglecting their natures. What hocus-pocus there is is treated as a device rather than the principals' driving force; there's thus little to engage us beyond the play's end. Even some of the tech seems watered down, almost marginalized. The whole thing, oddly enough, feels better suited for TV.
The Globe is working overtime this summer in its pursuit of excellence. Here, though, it's crafted a piece that's pleasant the way solitaire is a pleasant pastime. It's mild, innocuous entertainment, but there are probably more interesting things to do. You could always see other stuff at the theater's venues. Hamlet and Hay Fever are but steps away.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of Aug. 9. Bell, Book and Candle runs through Sept. 9 at The Old Globe Theatre's Cassius Carter Theatre Center, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park. $19-$58. 619-23-GLOBE.
Can't find fault
Newsweek's cover photo on the fallout from the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, should win a Pulitzer every year by decree. It featured a young woman sitting in a mountain of rubble following the Jan. 17, 1995 temblor that killed 5,100--the world stops amid the loss and agony etched in her face and heart. Man, what a shot.
In conjunction with Berkeley Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse is staging an excellent West Coast premi