‘Bell, Book, and Candle’ at SF Playhouse is charmingly frivolous

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 3/5 » Recommended)

(“Bell, Book, and Candle” plays at San Francisco Playhouse from December 8 through January 19.)

Gillian Holroyd is a witch. A young, beautiful, sexy witch. And she’s bored with her humdrum gang of eccentric witches and warlocks and that ol’ black magic that no longer has her in its spell. She branches out to ensnare a handsome neighbor, but is she really willing to fall in love and lose her witchy powers?

Lauren English as witch Gillian and Scott Cox as her brother Nicky in "Bell, Book & Candle" at the SF Playhouse. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.
Lauren English as witch Gillian and Scott Cox as her brother Nicky in “Bell, Book, and Candle” at the SF Playhouse. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.

John Van Druten’s 50’s chestnut was charming in its day, a decade when conformity was stifling and the delights of eccentricity—beats, motorcycle gangs or kooky occultists—were pretty much irresistible. Best known for the hugely successful Broadway hit, “I Am A Camera”, based on Christopher Isherwood‘s short stories and the inspiration for the musical “Cabaret”, Van Druten wrote with impeccable stagecraft. “Bell, Book, and Candle” is hokey, old fashioned, a bit creaky around the joints, but the old gal has some kick in her still.

Bill English knows exactly how to direct this gentle fantasy, and flawless production values make the evening something special. The design team has paid close attention to detail and everything is magical.

In his program note, English notes that “it is always a challenge to find a Holiday Show that hasn’t been done a million times.” His lighthearted choice of “Bell, Book, and Candle” meets the challenge nicely, providing easy laughter and warmth for chilly December nights.

Lauren English is delightfully sexy as the witch Gillian, and well matched by the handsome but confused William Connell as her victim and love interest. Zehra Berkman and Scott Cox provide plenty of gentle laughs as her eccentric relatives and Louis Parnell is appropriately befuddled as a curious journalist.

While “Bell, Book, and Candle” is far from a classic, and hardly memorable, it is a pleasant enough bit of fluff that allows the San Francisco Playhouse to once again demonstrate its expert care and flawless attention to detail. For further information, click here.

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“Bell, Book, and Candle” by John Van Druten, produced by SF Playhouse, directed by Bill English. Set: Bill English. Lighting: Kurt Landisman. Costumes: Abra Berman. Sound: Brendan Aanes. Props: Damon Kelley.

Miss Holroyd: Zehra Berkman. Shepherd Henderson: William Connell. Nicky Holroyd: Scott Cox. Gillian Holroyd: Lauren English. Sidney Redlitch: Louis Parnell.

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