Local community theater producers don't communicate with one another while planning schedules, so anything that appears to be a coincidence--fortunate, unfortunate or merely interesting--is just that.
Such was the case last weekend, when openings included two plays dealing with the supernatural: the classic "Bell, Book and Candle" at the Marquie Dinner Theater in Camarillo and the virtually unknown "Those Strange and Glorious Years" as part of the Conejo Players program of weekend matinees.
"Bell, Book and Candle," John van Druten's portrayal of a family of witches in a wealthy New York City neighborhood, is something like 50 years old, and (give or take an outdated reference) still holds up quite nicely.
In this dry comedy--a direct ancestor of TV's "Bewitched" and "Sabrina, the Teen-Age Witch" (but not really suitable for young children)--the rather bohemian but otherwise seemingly normal Gillian, her even more bohemian brother Nicky and their still more bohemian Aunt Queenie are getting along well with one another and the world, keeping their powers to themselves, until Gillian falls in love with Shep, a book publisher and new tenant in her building.
The presence of Redlich, an author investigating modern witchcraft, only complicates things.
Aileen Marie Scott is charming as the free spirit Gillian, with Brett Booth pushing his lines just a bit much as the alternately charming and meddlesome Nicky; Fred Bald is solid as Shep, and Rosemary DeLeonardis as Aunt Queenie just about walks away with the play every time she's on stage. On Saturday night, director Jeannine Marquie-Reyes persuaded her husband, Mark Andrew Reyes, to return to the stage after entirely too long an absence to fill in (that one night only) for an absent Lew Silverman, who plays the author.
Shep sounds more like a woman (and Gillian more like a man) as the two go through their relationship, and Nicky tends to kiss his sister and call her "darling." But it's in the script, so what are you gonna do?
"Bell, Book and Candle" continues Thursday through Saturday evenings at the Marquie Dinner Theatre, 340 Mobil Ave. in Camarillo. Doors open for all performances at 6:30 p.m.; dinner is served from 7 and the play begins at 8:15. Tickets are $35 (discounts available for seniors and children), which includes dinner with a choice of entrees, nonalcoholic beverages, tax and tip; a full cash bar is available. For reservations (mandatory) or more information, call 484-9909.
"Strange and Glorious" in Thousand Oaks: With the courtroom drama "Shadow Hour" continuing its nightly run, Conejo Players is valiantly launching a second new (or essentially so) play as part of its Conejo Afternoon Theatre matinee series.
Playwright Robert Leland Taylor calls "Those Strange and Glorious Years" a comedy--and, as it's his play, he can call it anything he likes. But although it has several amusing lines, the play aspires higher: It's a confrontation between a man, his past life and impending death that plays like a cross between "A Christmas Carol" and Ingmar Bergman's film "The Seventh Seal."
The marriage between Dennis Thorn and his wife, Vera, has come to a sad and quarrelsome end when the phone rings. It's Chris, a stranger who has some very important news for Dennis. It's important enough, in fact, that Chris has asked Trebor ("Robert" spelled backward, it's explained) to help.
Daniel Lavery and Gail Lee Baumler are an attractive couple as the (largely) battling Thorns, though on opening day Baumler was as soft-spoken as Lavery was loud; someone--probably director Mark Robley Johnson--should decide on a volume and urge everybody to stick to it. Stephen Findley and Robert West play the pair of whatever-it-is they are, with West supplying bucolic comic relief as a kind of Everyman. Dick Johnson also appears, most effectively, in a small but crucial role.
"Chris" and "Trebor" were speaking through wireless headset microphones on Sunday; both pieces of equipment either distorted badly or failed entirely. Better they just speak louder and leave the electronics to The Judds.
"Those Strange and Glorious Years" continues Saturday and Sunday afternoons (including July 4) at 2:30 p.m. through July 17 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks. All tickets are $7 and available at the door; no reservations are taken. For more information, call 495-3715.
Todd Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.