Categorized | Arts

Bewitching Beginnings: “Bell, Book and Candle” season opener

Posted on 28 May 2009

This is a busy week for Gary Hygom at the Bay Street Theatre. With the theatre’s mainstage season beginning next Tuesday, Hygom has spent the last several days running all over the East End as he oversees construction and assembly of the set that will serve as the centerpiece of “Bell Book and Candle” John Van Druten’s 1950 play — the first of Bay Street’s three play offerings this summer. 

Though his title is officially that of managing director, since starting at the theatre more than a dozen years ago, Hygom has enjoyed keeping his hand in set design. 

“When I first was hired on as technical director 12 years ago, I asked if I’d have any chance to design. They said, ‘Well, not really.’ But on the second show, the designer was having scheduling issues. I drew some sketches because I saw what was on the horizon. The designer dropped out and I said, ‘I happen to have these sketches for a set,’ and they used it.”

Since those days, Hygom has averaged a set a year for Bay Street Theatre. 

“It gets my creative juices flowing. But at times I wonder why I said yes to this,” joked Hygom on Tuesday during a brief break during his busy day.

Hygom particularly likes collaborating with Jack Hofsiss, a Tony award winning director who has worked on many Bay Street plays in recent years and is at the helm once again for “Bell, Book and Candle.” 

“I did the set for ‘Our Town’ with Jack,” says Hygom. “He works you and he pushes the envelope and gets the best out of me. He wanted to work with me again and Jack Hofsiss was the one I wanted to work with.”

That’s how it is at Bay Street Theatre. Over the years, the theatre staff has built strong relationships with the actors, directors, and crew members who return year after year to take part in productions here. Though much of the rehearsal process takes place in New York City where the talent lives, when the cast get to Sag Harbor, it’s often like a family reunion. In addition to Hofsiss, among those making return appearances on the Bay Street stage with “Bell, Book and Candle” are actors Matt McGrath, Sam Robards and Arija Bareikis. 

“Everybody in the cast has been here before,” says Bay Street’s co-artistic director Sybil Christopher. “I love that. I love repertory theatre, and when the audience can say, ‘Who is he this week?’ Our idea of bliss is a family of actors.”

“If you’re lucky, each production creates its own family,” adds co-artistic director Murphy Davis. “You have this very intense and close relationship for a short period of time. It gives us so much pleasure to support and work with people who are on that wavelength. Syb and I are always turning to each other, and saying, ‘Do you believe we get to do this for a living?’”

With “Bell, Book and Candle” Christopher and Murphy decided to start the season with a revival of a play that first hit Broadway more than half a century ago, and one Christopher remembers personally seeing herself. 

“I saw it in 1950 on Broadway with Rex Harrison,” says Christopher. “It was nicely done and when I read it again, I remembered this play is about magic and romance. I have this image of he and his wife, Lilli Palmer his wife in it.”

“Bell, Book and Candle” is a play about a witch, Gillian Holyroyd, who’s looking for love in New York City. The story is set in Gillian’s Murray Hill apartment. When Shepherd Henderson, a neighbor and mere mortal, comes into her life, she casts spells to affect the relationships in his vicinity and brews up plenty of trouble as a result. The play, which explores the notion of sacrifice and the attraction of opposites, served as inspiration for the 1960s sitcom “Bewitched.” But co-artistic director Murphy Davis notes, there’s more to this 1950s “man meets witch” story than meets the eye.

“Van Druten’s a wonderful playwright, that’s what you find out when you reread this play,” says Davis. “In a way its innocent — and in a way it’s not. Jack Hofsiss brought up the fact that this was written when the McCarthy era was hitting. This is about witches, under cover and being discovered.”

“This is a play about a woman at a moment when she’s questioning a life without love,” adds Davis. “Witches don’t have love. She’s realizing that’s not in her life. She asks, ‘Do I live a life without it, or do I really go against the grain?’ It’s the same for the lead guy. What he’s confronted with and what he gives up. The play asks what are you willing to give up for love? That’s why it ultimately pays off.”

This season, Bay Street is looking to create an environment where audience members might linger for a while after the show to talk about the production. Following shows on some Saturday nights, Bay Street’s lounge, bar and courtyard will stay open with live music for those who want to stick around for a while.

“We’re hoping when people can, they’ll stay and chat about the play,” says Davis. 

“Bell, Book and Candle” begins with previews from Tuesday, June 2 through Friday, June 5. Opening night is Saturday, June 6. The show runs through June 28, Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. with some matinees. To purchase tickets, call 725-9500. This year, for each mainstage show, Bay Street is offering “two for the price of one” tickets each day, based on availability, beginning at 2 p.m. Tickets must be bought in person at the box office on Long Wharf and will be offered all day for the first preview performance of each show and matinees. 

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