By Pat Launer
A reading of Lear may be too hot to handle;
It’d take all the magic of Bell , Book and Candle.
That Ole Black Magic Had Me in its Spell…
THE SHOW: Bell, Book and Candle the 1950 John van Druten play that inspired the 1958 film (with Kim Novak and James Stewart) and the popular TV show “Bewitched” (1964-1972, but still in reruns, I’m sure).
THE STORY: There have always been weird people and things in Greenwich Village , but did you know there were witches and warlocks? Van Druten creates a magical world where covens freely use their wiles, but they’re forced to make them look like coincidences, so they remain under the radar. Gillian Holroyd is one of the loveliest o the lot, but she’s lonely. All she wants is someone “ordinary” for a change. Then she spots her upstairs neighbor, the nice, normal Shep Henderson, an unprepossessing publisher. She sets her sights on him, and when she finds out he’s engaged to her college nemesis, she casts a spell on him, that draws him inescapably under her charm. She doesn’t count on the magic that love can create, and she has to face the fact that if she can love, she can also, for the first time, blush and cry ‘like a human,’ but if she goes down that treacherous romantic road, she’ll lose all her power. Ah, the price of love.
THE PLAYERS: As directed by Darko Tresnjak , the production is beautifully crafted and conceived. The cast is impeccable. At first, it’s hard to get the image of Novak and Stewart out of your head. But Gillian actually plays better as a brunette, and Melinda Page Hamilton is a knockout—seductive, charismatic and irresistible. As Shep Adrian LaTourelle is aptly goofy and hopelessly gobsmacked by. At the outset, he delivers a few of his lines with the exact emphasis and intonation of Stewart. But once he makes the part his own, he’s a delight, and their interactions sizzle. The sexuality, like so much in this play, is subtle and surreptitious. The witches could be stand-ins for closeted gays (of which the playwright was one), and Gillian’s brother Nicky (John Lavelle ) is played quite fey (and funny), a lot more over-the-top than Jack Lemmon in the movie. The sex is intimated, not demonstrated. The gay theme is an undertone, but it isn’t underlined. As the other eccentrics in Gillian’s circle, Deborah Taylor, an associate artist at the Globe, brings engaging wit and comic timing to uncontrollable Aunt Queenie , ever the meddler. In the small role of the witch-book-writing author, Sidney Redlitch , Gregor Paslawsky does a fine job.
THE PRODUCTION The New York skyline is inventively invoked (scenic design by Alexander Dodge), no mean feat in an arena space. Gillian’s delectable sunken living room reeks of ‘50s red velvet and shag carpets. The (porcelain) cat Pyewacket , with the light-up eyes, even purrs audibly. Emily Pepper, a talented UCSD alumna who’s done work at La Jolla Playhouse but is making an auspicious debut at the Globe, has created some beautiful outfits for Gillian, and Hamilton wears them with élan. Paul Peterson’s sound design also does a good deal to evoke the era, with songs by Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra (“Witchcraft,” natch ).
It’s all rather retro and nostalgic but also sweet and thoroughly appealing. And though it’s a frothily light comedy, it also poses a few questions about family and romance, being true to yourself — and giving up a part of you – all in the name of love.
THE LOCATION: The Old Globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage, through September 9
THE BOTTOM LINE: Best Bet
A LITTLE LEARY
THE SHOW: King Lear
It’s hard to do an intimate reading of an enormous piece of work. The San Diego Shakespeare Society tackled the prodigious tragedy – with an impressive cast, but only 2-3 rehearsals. The results were mixed, but promising. The semi-staged reading, which attracted a full house at the Westminster Presbyterian Church Theatre in Point Loma, seemed under-rehearsed. But there were flashes of brilliance, and the tease of a satisfying potential production. Perhaps if there were less movement (direction by Mike Auer ), the actors could have focused more on text and characterization.
As the belligerent and sadly misguided king, Jonathan McMurtry was often distracted by his long, stringy wig (though it looked great); he was stooped and doddering; in an interesting take, rather contemplative in his madness. His rage registered stronger than his despair. Richard Baird , outstanding as ever (though his Roshomon -long hair kept covering his face), made a terrific Edmund, a smirking scoundrel who relished his villainy. Tom Haine gave a fine performance as Gloucester , the parallel father to misunderstood children; his cry of anguish when his eyes were plucked out, hit raw nerve. Mitchell Wyatt did a capable job as Gloucester ’s ‘good son,’ Edgar. Sandra Ellis-Troy made a formidable and forbidding Goneril , and she garnered a knowing (and amused) response when she intoned, after a sexy smooch with Baird’s Edmund, “Oh, the difference of man and man.” In other roles, Mark Petrich , Sean Cox, Sherri Allen and TJ Johnson had commendable moments. The production is worth a more intensive and extensive revisit. McMurtry , 70, is absolutely ready to play the daunting role in earnest. Someone should snatch up the opportunity.
NEWS AND VIEWS…
…KUSI regular… My KUSI-TV gig continues… I’ll be appearing on “Inside San Diego” on every third Wednesday, at least through the end of the year! If you missed it this past week, you can view the segment on my website (www.patteproductions.com). My next turn on KUSI is Wednesday, September 5. Stay tuned! And keep commenting!
… Waltzing Matilda… Also on my website, check out my Dance Blog ( www.patteproductions.com ), where I’m chronicling my prep as one of the celebrity contestants in Malashock Dance’s fundraising event, “Malashock Thinks You Can Dance.” This 20th anniversary celebration is gonna be a killer! Saturday, September 15 in the new, state-of-the-art Irwin M. Jacobs Qualcomm Hall in Sorrento Valley . Proceeds support Malashock’s extensive education and outreach programs, which cultivate and motivate the dancers and dance-lovers of tomorrow. Mark your calendar, and get your hot tix now. 619-260-1622; www.malashockdance.org
… COMINGS AND GOINGS: Following his riveting run in North Coast Rep’s Rashomon , Richard Baird gave his last San Diego performance (at least for awhile) in the San Diego Shakespeare Society reading of King Lear. His family is still here to draw him back – and hopefully, smart theaters will, too. The spellbinding actor is off to Southwest Shakespeare Company in Mesa , Arizona , to reprise his stellar Poor Players performance as Angelo in Measure for Measure and to assay the lusty role of Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew. We’ll miss him on local stages, and hope he’ll be back on our boards soon.
… And returning to San Diego , after a stint in L.A. (which included his marriage!) , multi-talented Sean Cox is back, and available for roles. Casting directors, take note!
… Catching up… with mega-talented UCSD alum Ryan Shams. His recent showcase in L.A. and New York went extremely well, and he now has an agent and manager. His first job is a featured role as a doctor in “As the World Turns,’ airing on Sept. 14. But thankfully, he isn’t abandoning his love of theater. He’s volunteering his time at one of his favorite theater companies, the Wooster Group in New York , and will be helping with their tour of The Emperor Jones. More info on Ryan is at www.ryanshams.com . Here’s another talent local theaters should be clamoring for.
… Honoring two great men… The San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre is presenting a special benefit event that pays tribute to a local and a national icon: Dr. Floyd Gaffney and Dr. Martin Luther King. The evening of entertainment will contribute to the Floyd Gaffney Memorial Fund and will help support the next season of SDBET. To commemorate the 44th anniversary of the oration that influenced a nation, Antonio ‘TJ’ Johnson will re-create Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. There will also be performances by the ‘SDBET Players’ and the gospel group Voices of Prayze . August 28 at St. Paul ’s Cathedral. Pre- and post-show music by Dwight Love Jazz Ensemble. Be a part of this auspicious occasion. Tix at 619-280-5650.
…SDBET and Cygnet … Cygnet Theatre continues its collaboration with the San Diego Black Ensemble Theatre with The Cycle Plays, Part II, more staged readings of the stunning works of the late, great August Wilson. Next up is the 8th play in the 10-play cycle, King Hedley II, with a cast of local stars: TJ Johnson, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson, Grandison M. Phelps III, Monique Gaffney and Hassan El Amin . Set in the Reagan years of excess, the piece concerns an ex-con who tries to rebuild his life by selling stolen refrigerators and robbing the neighborhood jeweler so he can buy a video store. But reality intervenes to shake his world. Sept. 17-18 at Cygnet Theatre.
And before that, Cygnet presents a reading of Iron, by Rona Munro, featuring another luminous cast: Rosina Reynolds , Katie Reynolds (onstage together again!), Ron Choularton and Jillian Frost . In Josie hasn’t seen her mother for 15 years, and now she’s visiting her in prison, where Mom is serving life for murdering her husband with a kitchen knife. It’s all about uncovering the memories. Tuesday, Aug. 28 at 8pm.
Tix for both/either event at cygnettheatre.com or 619-337-1525.
… A Reader Responds… After reading my review of “Hairspray,” the movie musical, Trina Kaplan wrote to say that she’d met the star, Nikki Blonsky , on Long Island two years ago, when the big-talent teen was playing Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd at Great Neck High School. Her mentor, and the musical director of the show, is Trina’s niece, Dr. Pamela Levy. Trina was blown away by Nikki’s talent, and isn’t at all surprised that other, more influential folks were, too. Nikki was just a junior then, and the following year, also under Levy’s tutelage, she played the lead in Carmen – in French! Now she’s the toast of Hollywood .
… The busiest guy in town, Scott Paulson, is at it again… all over the place! Besides playing oboe with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra (under the direction of Jung-Ho Pak) and Classics Philharmonic (which provides accompaniment for the balletic Classics for Kids), the Patté Award-winning sound-master continues his work with Paper Theater, a Victorian diversion featuring elaborate, scale-model paper replicas of actual theaters. His annual Toy Piano Festival takes place at UCSD on Sept. 5 (858-524-8074), and in September and October, he’ll be performing “Saturday Stories” and Live Paper Theatre, at the San Diego Museum of Art (619-696-1969). From September 30-November 4, he’ll appear live onstage as the “freaky horror music guy” playing Theramin and other scary instruments, for Seven Crimes: A Graphic Celebration of Murder and Mayhem, Sledgehammer Theatre’s Halloween spectacle, presented in the style of Grand Guignol (619-544-1484). And with all this, he still has the time – and energy! – to hold down a full-time job at the UCSD Arts Libraries, curating exhibits and hosting outreach events. Go, Scott, go!
… Sing out, Louise! … The Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego, continuing its 15th anniversary season, will hold an Info Night on Wed. August 29, to welcome potential new singers and non-singing operations staff. For info: 619-57-GMCSD or www.GMCSD .
… After a two-year hiatus, La Jolla Stage Company is back up and running. This weekend and next, they’re presenting Woody Guthrie’s American Song, which celebrates the life, travels and travails of the groundbreaking activist folksinger, with a text based on his essays and reminiscences. Among many others, his two signature songs will, of course, be featured: “This Land is Your Land” and “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You.” Woody’s work is as relevant today as ever. Paula and Tim Heitman direct, and the wonderful acoustic string band, the 7th Day Buskers , provide accompaniment, as they did, to outstanding effect, in Lamb’s Players’ 2003 production of Cotton Patch Gospel, and the recent SDSU production of The Grapes of Wrath . La Jolla Stage is offering a dinner theater package on Friday, August 17; the last two performances are Aug. 24 and 26, at the Torrey Pines Christian Church. Tickets at firstname.lastname@example.org or thelajollastageco.org or at 858-454-7798.
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Pat’s Picks)
Bell , Book and Candle – delectable, romantic, attractive production; very well acted and directed
The Globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage, through September 9
after the quake – spare, at times amusing, and starkly beautiful; gorgeously designed, directed and acted
La Jolla Playhouse, through August 26
The Deception – another provocative and superbly integrated production by Théâtre de la Jeune Lune; just about anything this imaginative company (and its brilliant director) creates is worth seeing
La Jolla Playhouse, through August 19
Hay Fever – witty, sophisticated, deliciously vicious
Old Globe Theatre, through August 19
Two Gentlemen of Verona – light, frothy, goofy, well-acted fun
The Old Globe’s Festival Stage, in repertory with Hamlet and Two Gentlemen of Verona, through September 30
Measure for Measure – beautiful , comprehensible, relevant, flawlessly directed and performed
The Old Globe’s Festival Stage, in repertory with Hamlet and Two Gentlemen of Verona, through September 30
(For full text of all of Pat’s past reviews, going back to 1990, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
Make the most of the end of summer… at the theater!
© 2007 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.