‘Bell, Book, and Candle’ at Colonial Players by Amanda Gunther

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Double double toil and trouble! There’s magic in the air with all this hocus pocus brewing over at Colonial Players as they present John Van Druten’s Bell, Book and Candle. Directed by Debbie Barber-Eaton this charming story is the original witch’s tale. Before Elphaba loved Fiyero before Samantha loved Darren there was Gillian Holroyd and her familiar Pyewacket. The original witch falling in love with a mortal man will bring spellbinding enchantment to bewitch the audience.

Director Debbie Barber-Eaton brings a little magic to the stage with her casting choices of the two strong females. Their performances are far superior to that of the male actors, who unfortunately fall a little flat, especially Shep (Jason Vellon). Barber-Eaton unites the fun loving cast around a unique set with clever lighting design to keep the sparkle and mystery alive and captivating throughout the production.

Carol Cohen (Queenie), Ali Vellon (Gillian), and Jason Vaughann (Nicky Holroyd) in ‘Bell, Book and Candle.’ Photo by Colburn Images.

The show would appear warmer and more inviting to an audience that was appropriately in the Christmas spirit but as the audience is coming off the tale-end of summer it seems out of place to be viewing a jovial holiday tale. This aside – the show has some stilted pacing issues that occur mainly between scenes where the changes could be tightened to keep the audience from lengthy periods of waiting in the dark.

Lighting Designer Eric Lund brings a sparkle of magic to the show in his own right with all of the electrifying and spooky lighting cues that echo throughout the production during moments of spells and other witchcraft. Lund’s design is perfectly synchronized with moments of actor action so that the various witches and the warlock appear to control the lights of the apartment with their magic. This is done seamlessly and was a very impressive aspect to the production.

Costume Designer Jean Carroll Christie finishes the look of witchy woman in both the leading witch and her bizarre auntie’s wardrobe choices. Christie creates the picturesque eccentricity in the gorgeous glittery evening gown that she suits to Gillian and the wacky layers of peacock feathers she gives to Queenie. Her choices define Gillian as the more modern witch with trickled-down aspects of bizarre in her outfits, whereas Queenie is the real McCoy and you half expect her to pop a broomstick out from under her riding cloak. Christie effectively makes Nicky the classy Warlock by accenting his subtle suit with a rather elegant cane.

The two witches, Gillian (Ali Vellon) and Aunt Queenie (Carol Cohen) truly master the art of the evil cackle. Vellon and Cohen play well off one another, inspiring each other to higher and higher levels of magical enchantments. They both stack their hair in zany piles of red curls giving them the eccentric look from the beginning and their gestures are similar enough to tell they’re related without having to look alike.

Cohen is the perfect example of a peculiar old woman, done up in lace and feathers with a pinched smile and a mischievous twinkle in her eye. When she sweeps into the apartment for the first time it’s very reminiscent of Endora from the 50’s television show Bewitched. Cohen’s shrill voice and pointed yet elaborate gestures make her all the more amusing and odd, truly adding a comic and thrilling dimension to this production.

Vellon as the lead is the charming delightful example of how a witch might blend into modern society. She speaks with purposefully elongated words, letting her tone drip with sensuality so that her bewitching efforts truly effect Shep (Jason Vellon). She’s quick witted and has a sharp tongue when in a spat with her Warlock brother Nicky (Jason Vaughan). And when she finds the fires of hell to fuel her fury, Shakespeare’s saying about a woman scorned has never been more lively than the way Vellon executes her vengeful scenes. Vellon is a superior performer and gives us every reason to believe she might just be the real thing, locked and loaded with a spell or two for you! So let her ensnare your senses, bewitch your mind, and bind you in her spell with this enchanting production.

Running Time: Two 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.

Bell Book and Candle plays through October 6, 2012 at Colonial Players of Annapolis – 108 East Street in the heart of historic Annapolis, MD. For tickets,call the box office at (410) 268-7373, or purchase them online.