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DAN'S PAPERS, June 12, 2009 Page 53

Arts & Entertainment

Review: Bell, Book and Candle at Bay Street

Gary Mamay

By Susan M. Galardi Revivals can be many things. Some are snapshots of times gone by, allowing us to remember (if we were around) or get a glimpse of popular attitudes and cultural mores. That was the case last year when Bay Street presented Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy. For someone who lived in New York in the ‘80s, the period piece was a hilarious flashback to that unique time and place. Revivals can also be history lessons based on actual political or social events. Others are timeless portrayals of humanity that never seem dated. John Van Druten’s Bell, Book and Candle, the first main stage production presented by the Bay Street Theater this season, falls in that last category, despite the fact that it’s a fable. Other than a few 1950s references (the Kinsey Report, for one), the play could be set in a modern day New York Park Avenue apartment building inhabited by socialites. The fact that a few of those socialites happen to be witches makes it more interesting. The play – a trifle, really – was the inspiration for the 1960s TV series, “Bewitched” (famous for its two Darrens). A beautiful witch, Gillian Holroyd, played by the Arija Bareikis (TV’s “Southland,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Without a Trace”) has a thing for her upstairs neighbor Shepherd Henderson, played by Sam Robards (Tony nominee in The Man Who Had All The Luck, and TV’s “Gossip Girl”). Gillian casts a little cupid’s arrow spell on Shepherd, who is engaged but hardly in love. It does the trick – Shepherd falls for Gillian. But what is surprising (to Gillian at least, if not so much to the audience) is that she falls in love with him – something a witch is not supposed to be

Sam Robards, Gillian Holroyd able to do. Her feelings for him humanize her and by experiencing love, she also gets to feel anger, pain, disappointment – you get the picture. During the three-act play (this was the ‘50s remember), Bareikis takes her character from a cool, detached witch who seems to be going through the motions of what it feels like to be in a romance, to a more emotional, flesh and blood woman scorned. An interesting twist in the play, directed by Tonyaward-winner Jack Hofsiss, is a role reversal of the typical ’50s male/female stereotypes, particularly on the subject of marriage. Once he gets the love bug, Robards’ Shepherd becomes almost giddy, assuming the role of the housewife to be, tidying up the tea table and even posing on the sofa like an ingéénue, as

Gillian had in act one. In an amusing bit of dialogue, the young witch tries to explain that she doesn’t know if she could change enough to settle down and be married. Not knowing she’s a witch, Shepherd thinks she’s referring to her wanderlust, and tries to reassure her that marriage won’t cramp her style. As Shepherd, Robards is the quintessential ‘50s man in a grey flannel suit who turns foot loose and fancy free under the spell. Matt McGrath (Broadway’s Cabaret, A Streetcar Named Desire and the film Boys Don’t Cry) is Gillian’s plotting warlock brother. Two cast members take the play into broader comedy. Gordana Rashovich does an animated, sometimes campy and often funny turn as Aunt Queenie. Her welcome energy is met by Jarlath Conroy in the role of “witch expert” Sidney Redlitch, even if the performance leaned toward cartoonish now and then. I daresay the real star of the show was the gorgeous set designed by Bay Street Managing Director (and former Broadway set designer) Gary Hygom. While it had plenty of nods to 1950s décor, the rich red walls dense with artwork, thick gold ceiling moldings, and traditional antique furniture could easily be found in an upscale Pre-war Manhattan condo today. Costumes by Toni Leslie-James – particularly the women’s dresses – were stunning and period-perfect. There were some fun special effects like smoking books and sparkly fires. Bell, Book and Candle previews through Friday, June 5. Opening night is Saturday, June 6. The shows run through June 28. Purchase tickets online at, by calling 631-725-9500, or at the Box Office.

Art Commentary by Marion Wolberg Weiss

Ned Smyth’s ‘Seeds and Stems’ at Salomon Gallery There are so many intriguing aspects to Ned Smyth’s newest exhibit currently at the Salomon Gallery that it’s difficult deciding what comes first when articulating his work. We could start with the title, “Seeds and Stems,” as an indication of Smyth’s theme. Even so, we would be guessing at best, because the installation is so rich with meanings. But we’ll give it a try, nonetheless. This critic is struck by Smyth’s penchant for the past and the origins of things. The connotation of “Seeds,” then, is an apt description for the artist’s idea of “beginnings.” Out of seeds comes the concept of “Stems,” or growth and evolution. From the basic metaphor evoked by “Seeds and Stems,” we are perhaps able to discern other dimensions. For example, in a discussion with this critic, Smyth mentions his appreciation for Joseph Campbell. If we apply Campbell’s theory of the “Mythic Hero,” we can understand the reasons for such an appreciation, although admittedly, Smyth may have had something else in mind. Campbell’s hero is one who leads a normal life with traditional values. Through a guide he embarks on a journey, discovering a different, unknown, and even magical, place. He learns many things from this new experience and takes the lessons learned back to his own home. (The film Witness, with Harrison Ford as a cop hiding out

among the Amish, is a good example of this journey.) Without much to go on except instinct, this critic believes Smyth has (and is) experiencing a similar journey: His discovery of an unknown world replete with ancient rocks and other primal objects provokes his own individual sculptures and installations. Such works are the lessons he is bringing back to us, the viewers, which leads us to ask a salient question: What are Smyth’s lessons? Obviously, there are many. Consider that his rock and twig installations define the history of

material, as they also allow us to revere natural-made forms. But Smyth takes this reverence a step farther with the juxtaposition of man-made concrete slabs and natural shapes. Is he suggesting that nature and man can coexist? Even so, the rocks also infer that configurations found in nature mirror real shapes in life, like male and female torsos, for example. Or is it human beings who do the mirroring, creating things that first exist in nature? This seems reasonable, considering that we all know there is no such tenet as originality, per se, in an artist’s output. According to some people, originality only comes from God (in the form of nature/“original creation”). We can’t help but wonder if Dame Barbara Hepworth’s sculptures also focus on the same questions. Her man-made works look like prehistoric stones, reflecting the real Celtic rock formations that flourish near her St. Ives’ home in Cornwall. If ever an artist was influenced by his/her environs, Hepworth’s oeuvre is a perfect example. The same could be said of Smyth’s remarkable stone sculptures collected from Long Island’s distant past. Ned Smyth’s exhibit will be on view at East Hampton’s Salomon Gallery until June 28. Please call 917-617-0828 for directions and hours.

Dan's Papers June 12, 2009  
Dan's Papers June 12, 2009  

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