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THEATER REVIEW : 'Bell, Book and Candle' Still Able to Cast an Amiable Spell : The tone is frothy, the dialogue witty in a comedic tale of modern-day witches.


The possibility of witches living in contemporary New York City formed the premise of John Van Druten's 1950 comedy "Bell, Book and Candle." While stylistically very much a product of its time, the play holds up quite nicely in a breezy production by the Oxnard-based Etc. theater company.

Kathleen Hobson stars as Gillian Holroyd, the kind of with-it witch who'd later be immortalized by Elizabeth Montgomery in the TV series "Bewitched." She lives the single gal's life in a nice, leased apartment, with her daffy Aunt Queenie (Nita Fouhse) in residence upstairs.

Witches aren't able to fall in love--in Van Druten's concept, at least--but the presence of suave publishing executive Shep Henderson (Alan Price) as the building's new tenant stirs something in Gillian. There's only one problem: Shep and his longtime girlfriend plan to announce their engagement at a party that night.

Not above casting a spell or two, Gillian does some witchy things, all the while trying to keep Shep from finding out what's going on. Along for the ride are Gillian's prankish warlock brother, Nicky (Andrew Dunn), and a self-declared expert on witchcraft (Elmer Ferber) who doesn't realize that he's literally standing in the middle of a coven.

The play's tone is frothy, Van Druten's dialogue witty, and the cast's attempts at recreating the sort of atmosphere favored by the likes of William Powell and Myrna Loy are moderately convincing under Linda Hyde's direction.

Whoever decided to update the script with a cordless telephone and compact discs misjudged, though: The script still includes such telltale signs of its age as references to the Kinsey Report, the House Un-American Activities Committee and double-feature first-run movies. And we're asked to believe that a single woman in 1994 would maintain a full pitcher of martinis in her kitchen, just in case any visitors should drop by. While noticeable, the anachronisms aren't particularly distracting; just unnecessary.

The performances at Friday's opening were fine, particularly considering that three of the players came in during the rehearsal period when originally announced actors dropped out for one reason or another. In addition to those already mentioned, the cast includes brief appearances by Camille Rodriguez and, as Gillian's familiar, Tabian Cruz.

Continuing well into November, the play--while not at all scary--is appropriate to the Halloween season, and is certainly suitable for audiences from the teens up.


* WHAT: "Bell, Book and Candle."

* WHEN: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Nov. 19. Matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16 only.

* WHERE: Petit Ranch House, 730 S. B St. (Heritage Square), Oxnard.

* COST: General admission $9; seniors, $7.

* CALL: 526-6219

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