Celebrate Cabrillo’s 70th Season With The Play That Started It All
By Shannon Cudd
Before the existence of the Cabrillo Playhouse, the San Clemente Community Theatre began producing live entertainment for audiences in 1953. Productions were hosted in various venues across town, including the all-purpose rooms of Las Palmas School and the Elk's Club. However, it was soon realized that a permanent space was necessary.
In 1966, the perfect location was found: the historic Adair home and the adjacent parking lot. Architect Dick Fast and general contractor Gordon Brown worked diligently to create an intimate venue where stories of all kinds could be told. On Saturday, June 11, 1966, the inaugural production in this new space was John Van Druten’s play "Bell, Book, and Candle. NBC even televised scenes from it. Michael Lopez, Cabrillo’s Producing Artistic Director, and his fellow play selection committee members believe their 70th-anniversary season is the ideal time to revisit this magical play from the 1950s.
Lopez asserts that this show is “still relevant today” and believes that “audiences will still enjoy it.” Director Gregory Cohen thinks it is a perfect fit for the space and is excited to work on a “classic” that is “not done often.” In fact, he had difficulty finding the script: “I think the scripts are out of print,” he mused.
Both Lopez and Cohen were thrilled with the number of people who turned out for auditions; it was one of their biggest turnouts to date. Auditions involved cold readings from the script.
The play revolves around a witch named Gillian Holroyd, a powerful woman unafraid to use her magic. When one of her rivals enters into a relationship with a handsome publisher named Shepherd Henderson, Gillian takes matters into her own hands by casting a love spell on him. Cohen emphasizes that “it's very important to remember she is attracted to him,” so she is not “totally awful.”
Shepherd remains blissfully unaware of his new lover’s powers, leading to hilarious comedic moments. “He is a pragmatist. He simply does not believe that these things exist and so he doesn't see any of it,” explained Cohen.
Gillian gradually develops feelings for Shepherd. Both Lopez and Cohen believe that sometimes love takes time to develop. “It takes more time for her to recognize it as love than to actually feel it. She started doing it pretty quickly. She just doesn't understand it,” mused Cohen.
Gillian’s love for Shepherd leads her to a crossroads in life. She has to make a difficult decision: either give up her powers or be with the man she loves. Lopez believes you gain something when you fall in love. “When people fall in love, they may lose the things that they think are important. But they find out that they're gaining more. That is truly important,” Cohen agreed.
Both Lopez and Cohen agree that this script demands subtle humor grounded in truth. Neither was surprised to learn that the playwright once considered writing it as a drama instead of a comedy. Lopez loves the play’s witty dialogue, while Cohen cautioned his cast not to expect uproarious laughter because they are playing it sincerely rather than going for cheap laughs.
Magic serves as a powerful metaphor for modern life, symbolizing instant gratification devoid of determination or endurance. Cohen hopes audiences learn about the importance of persistence and hard work. “The true value of something isn't felt unless you earn it, and I think everything is so easy for people these days,” he mused. “And because of that, people tend to value what they have less. If they can recognize that in this incredibly dated chestnut, hopefully, they'll see that it is still a relevant piece of theater.”
Yet, it's delightful to dream about possessing magical powers. If Lopez could cast one spell he would wave his magic wand to make people “have more empathy and become smarter in what they're thinking about humanity.” Cohen would “eradicate hate.” Both noble and heartfelt wishes.
Cohen believes audiences should see this show because “we all need a little magic in our life and you can find it anywhere, especially at Cabrillo.” Lopez agrees and hopes you join them for this magical 70th-anniversary season.
Shannon Cudd is a writer, actor, and theatre lover in Orange County, California.
“Bell, Book, and Candle” Cabrillo Playhouse 202 Avenida Cabrillo, San Clemente, CA 92672
October 27 to November 19, 2023
(949) 492 0465, www.cabrilloplayhouse.org