Before there was Bewitched or Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, there was Bell, Book and Candle, an enchanting romantic comedy by John Van Druten about a modern-day witch who falls under the spell of an ordinary mortal.
At Cockpit in Court's cabaret theater, director Vince Kimball has tossed in a host of updated references to everything from reality TV shows to e-mail and cell phones. The references blend in beautifully - an indication, perhaps, of the immense pleasure it would be to cast an evil spell on any of the above.
Some of the performances feel forced - including those of Sarah Joy Fitzpatrick as Gillian, the love-struck witch, who risks losing her powers along with her heart, and Regina Rose as her petulant sibling, a role usually played by a man. What these characterizations need is a touch of blithe flamboyance, an attitude gleefully achieved by Kathryn E. Smith as the sisters' dotty aunt.
Interestingly, the portrayals of the mere mortals provide the most amusement - William Stewart as the stuffy publisher who is the object of Gillian's affection, and John Rowe as a clueless, imbibing author who considers himself an expert in witchcraft.
What's most intriguing about this play, however, is the timelessness of its commentary on romance. In this fanciful script, true love befuddles the senses, and emotion overcomes reason. Ultimately, however, Van Druten suggests that love has the power to create a stronger force from the union of two distinct, but equally committed, spirits.
Cockpit's production may feel more mundane than magical at times, but it still delivers enough sorcery to allow its potent underlying themes to bubble to the surface.
Show times at Cockpit, on the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, 7201 Rossville Blvd., are 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $13. Call 410-780-6369.
To borrow a sentiment from the 1976 movie Network, Nettie Lowery is mad as hell and she's not going to take it anymore.
Nettie is the protagonist of Rosemary Frisino Toohey's Woman on the Edge, a Baltimore Playwrights Festival production at the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts.
With her husband out of town, this previously peaceful retired schoolteacher has closed herself in her home, only to emerge toting a shotgun and wearing a homemade explosive device wired around her terrycloth bathrobe. She's even fired a few shots at a cop.
It's a situation with two central mysteries: 1. Whether Nettie will disarm herself before someone gets hurt, and 2. What provoked her ire. The first of these is resolved before the evening is over. The second is never adequately explained - despite the didactic device of a series of phone calls between Nettie and a police psychologist.
In previous plays, Toohey has demonstrated an ability to handle subjects and tones ranging from the dire aftermath of a murder spree (her beautifully crafted 2003 drama School Shooter) to light comedy (the one-act dialogue between lobsters in her 2001 Playwrights Festival entry, Seafood Buffet). But while Woman on the Edge offers a provocative setup, it lacks the underpinning to sustain a full-length drama.
Under Bob Bardoff's direction, Babs Dents does her best to convey her character's perplexing blend of comfy suburban ordinariness and incendiary angst. We get the sense that Nettie knows what's bugging her, even if we're left pretty much in the dark.
The best explanation for Nettie's behavior comes from her sister (Laura Williams), one of several characters who gather for a family reunion. The sister tells a reporter (Cybele Pomeroy) that Nettie's always been a "bottler" - she bottles everything up. Now, presumably, the bottle has overflowed.
But just what is it that Nettie's been bottling up? Though we're given hints, none seems weighty enough to provoke such an extreme reaction. As a result, the conclusion comes across as perfunctory, and the final sentiments border on the saccharine. With a sturdier foundation, Woman on the Edge might have a lot more edge.
Show times at the Chesapeake Center, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 15. Tickets are $15. Call 410-636-6597.
Filling out the bill
The Hippodrome Theatre has added five non-subscription shows to its 2004-2005 season. The offerings include three return engagements and two newcomers: Def Poetry Jam (Oct. 28-30); Scrooge (Dec. 14-19), starring Richard Chamberlain in a new production of the stage version of the 1970 Leslie Bricusse movie musical; Rent (Dec. 20-26); Jesus Christ Superstar (winter; dates to be announced); and Improvography (May 4-5), a new show starring dancer/choreographer Savion Glover. For more information, call 410-837-7400.
A touch of Broadway
Broadway musical fans can catch some vintage performances when Maryland Public Television airs Broadway's Lost Treasures II. Like the original Lost Treasures broadcast, seen most recently on MPT in June, the new installment is a compilation of performances from the annual Tony Awards telecasts.
This means there are a good many "greatest hits"-style numbers. Best of all, however, are a few more obscure selections, such as Jerry Orbach - who also serves as one of the program's three hosts - performing "All I Care About is Love" from Chicago and Jane Lapotaire singing "La Vie en Rose" from the non-musical play Piaf.
Broadway's Lost Treasures II will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday and Aug. 11, and at 3 p.m. Aug. 13, on MPT, Channels 22 and 67.