I've been reading
the summer movie previews with great anticipation. I'm looking forward
to the opening day picnic at the new Lucas Digital Arts Center, but
it's not the latest Star Wars epic that's captured my curiosity. It's
the Bewitched movie with Nicole Kidman, set for release June 24. It
brings back memories of some great San Francisco actors and artists.
Yogi Berra so famously said of nostalgia, "it isn't what it used to
be." In 1993, when the retro genre was as popular as ever, San Francisco's
New Conservatory Theatre gave us "Bewitched: the Play." A stage version
of the Brady Bunch was a big hit a year earlier at the Alcazar on
Geary Street and at theatres in other cities. Prentiss Smithson, an
eccentric director and Egyptologist wanted to see Bewitched onstage
in San Francisco.
Smithson cast a bunch of young actors and comedians in the roles and
staged a high concept Bewitched. In it, a uniformed technician performed
the witches' tricks with props on fishing lines while the actors hammed
it up as fabulous recreations of the characters made famous in the
At the New Conservatory, Paula Hubman was Samantha, the role Kidman
is playing now. Sirena Irwin played the Agnes Moorehead role, Endora.
I, a young comedian then, played Uncle Arthur. Irwin was hilarious,
as was PA Cooley, who continues as a stage favorite in San Francisco
today. Cooley stole the show as Dr. Bombay. Irwin recently performed
voices in the SpongeBob movie.
Though his real vision was to direct a stage version of Barbarella,
Smithson gave Bewitched the full treatment, all camp and affection.
For the cast of 14, including real-life San Francisco mortician Jack
Jensen as droll neighbor Abner Kravitz, the experience that was part
Bewitched, part "Waiting for Guffman."
The witches popped in and out by coming onstage via a series of slides
perched above the stage. After weeks of rehearsal, the slides were
finally built around the actors on the evening before the show opened.
Samantha burned her wig on opening night, leaving the actress who
played the back of Samantha's head in the twin sequences with nothing
but a dust mop for the second act.
Ultimately, we had fun making they play and it showed. The reviews
were mixed, but everyone considered it successful. Translation, the
house made money. Smithson later brought a second, even more experimental
version back to the New Conservatory. That version got a thumbs up
from Bewitched creator Sol Saks, who attended a special performance
in his honor.
Here's a superficial connection: Shirley McLaine plays a witch named
Iris Smythson, aka Endora in the Kidman film.
If the 1970s cop show Streets of San Francisco is ever remade we must
lobby to have it spared from being dragged through the wringer of
post modern interpretation. Noone wants to see an SNL comedian making
fun of Karl Malden with a prosthetic cauliflower glued to his nose.
Besides, the City was the real star there. It outshone even the dashing
But today is also the era of so-called reality TV, where nothing is
as it seems. At the outset of the summer tourist season, the streets
of San Francisco are a mess. Mission Street looks like something from
the Flinstones for the entire length of downtown.
Thank goodness Supervisor Aaron Peskin has opened hearings on street
cutting. Anyone who cuts the street, for utilities and other services,
ought to put it back the way they found it.
Also on the streets last weekend, an unattended suitcase in front
of the Palomar Hotel stopped traffic at Fourth and Market for over
an hour while the SFPD investigated. While it turned out there was
no foul play, I was surprised to see so little notice of the incident
in our media, considering the recent Washington DC evacuation.
These are the real questions that linger throughout all our backstage
farce over airline security, border patrol, and wars of choice. What
is the real threat and whom can we believe?
Craig Newmark, the San Francisco internet entrepreneur who created
Craigslist, wants to do citizen journalism on his popular web site.
There's an idea whose time has come. Robert Altman, the Rolling Stone
photographer who created a prototype for photo bloggers back in 1994,
tells me he was appalled when he saw network anchors quoting blogs
on the air, directly from the Internet, without any off air fact checking.
This week's retraction by Newsweek over a story that caused riots
and murders in the Middle East helps us wonder if we are being whipped
in the wind, bewildered and bewitched in an era of illusion.
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