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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ relived in Door County

Critic At Large

Peninsula Players Theatre, Chicago Radio Theatre

Allison Selby Cook, from left, Linda Fortunato, Mike Jimerson, Penny Slusher, Greg Vinkler and Ric Walker of Peninsula Players Theatre’s cast for “Bell, Book and Candle.”

BAILEYS HARBOR, Wis. (WFRV) – In normal winters in recent years, Peninsula Players Theater would gather a crowd at Bjorklunden lodge and play around a bit. The company would offer readings of works that might be on a coming summer/fall season. One night, live, with professional actors in front of an in-person audience, and that would be it.

In this coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic winter, the basic concept continues online. Of course, it’s not the same.

Monday night, the on-demand offering was “Bell, Book and Candle,” which has had a storybook life.

During the presentation, Peninsula Players Theatre’s artistic director Greg Vinkler hinted a stage version may be coming to the theater… back to the theater because the Players first put it on in 1957.

The appeal of “Bell, Book and Candle” is love-at-first-sight story. The catch: The sighting is by a witch, who can’t fall in love.

Theater’s stock in trade – suspension of disbelief – is at full operation in this story.

That was put to the test Monday night in a production that teamed Peninsula Players Theatre and Chicago Radio Theatre. Director Kevin Christopher Fox noted the actors performed in “seven mystical closets and desks in Chicago.” So much for the old-time radio setup of everybody performing in the same studio. And so much for building chemistry among actors/characters being in the same place and such things as audio levels being the same.

On the other hand, the charm of the story was there. John Van Druten had a touch with the imagination creating a lovely what-if. Van Druten wrote and directed the original Broadway hit in a fabled career that included direct links to “Cabaret” and other big titles.

The verbal set up for Monday’s production (by Allison Selby Cook) was the audience was at the atmospheric Bjorklunden. In imagination.

This was an audio presentation, save for the screen display of the name of the character speaking.

The place of the play is an apartment in New York City. Gillian (Linda Fortunato) has spotted her upstairs neighbor, Shep (Mike Jimmerson), and likes what she sees. With witchy shenanigans of her aunt (Peggy Slusher) and brother (Ric Walker), Gillian is offered Shep on a plate. Little matter to them that Shep that evening was to set the date with his fiancé. Shep is now ga-ga over Gillian and full into the murky world of witchcraft and wannabe experts like author Sidney Redlitch (Greg Vinkler).

In the production that toiled to achieve chemistry when performers are in the same space, Linda Fortunato was the most convincing player, her voice being comfy/alluring.

This and that:

+ Mischief is a fun character. Everybody is up to something sometime.

+ Mostly what happens in the story is not dated. There is some dating with the telephone system, and one 1950s contemporary reference appears – the phrase “unamerican activities.” Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy was messing around at the time.

+ Shep drops a word that was picked up for the title of a TV series that this play inspired: “Bewitched.”

+ Readings that Peninsula Players Theatre normally do at Bjorklunden this year have potentially greater audiences. Internet access brings into the loop people who normally would not drive to Baileys Harbor in winter for a one-nighter, and now they can find out what’s up by turning on their computer.

***

Creative: Playwright – John Van Druten; director – Kevin Christopher Fox; artistic director – Greg Vinkler; managing director – Brian Kelsey

Cast:

Stage directions – Allison Selby Cook

Gillian Holroyd – Linda Fortunato

Shep Henderson – Mike Jimerson

Miss Holroyd, Gillian’s aunt – Penny Slusher

Sidney Redlitch – Greg Vinkler

Nicky Holroyd, Gillian’s brother – Ric Walker

Running time: Two hours, five minutes

Note 1: Part of “The Play’s the Thing,” the company’s continuing winter outreach programming, presenting professional play readings for the public.

Note 2: The play for final reading April 5 is to be announced.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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