The play “Bell, Book and Candle” answers the question, “What happens when a powerful witch falls in love?” Currently on stage at the Cleveland Play House, the 1950s script still has some power to enchant, with both romance and comedy.
Some may remember the film with Kim Novak, James Stewart, Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs. The Play House production features a trim cast of five directed by artistic Director Michael Bloom.
A New York apartment is a hotbed of witchcraft. Its owner, Gillian, is fascinated with an upstairs neighbor, publisher Shep Henderson. She gets to meet him when he complains about a meddling neighbor who seems to visit his apartment when he’s gone, read his mail and tamper with his phone. The neighbor is Gillian’s Aunt Queenie, and they are both witches, working harmless, but annoying spells. Also part of the cult is Gillian’s friendly but creepy brother Nicky.
“Bell, Book and Candle” is set in the 1950s, but is not of the decade. Its sensibilities are of an earlier era. It does give five actors a chance to put everything out to the audience. Nothing is subtle under Bloom’s direction, and that suits the script just fine. Georgia Cohen captures Gillian as a slinky, seductive woman, committed to her goal of landing Shep. That she can cast spells should make the mission achievable, if not easy. That is not the case.
Eric Brown as Shep makes the audience wonder when he will change his disbelief in witches. The romantic scenes, somewhat physical but mostly verbal, are the spine of the show, and the performers capture them well. Jeremy Webb creates an interesting character as brother Nicky. Constantly going to parties, witch gatherings, Nicky is an intriguing character partly because he is not explored as deeply as others. Patricia Kilgarriff has a nice turn as meddling Aunt Queenie, and especially shines in Bloom’s cleverly conceived scene changes when 1950s witch-dancing directs the action.
Cleveland’s Mark Moritz’ talent for character roles is perfectly matched in character Sidney Redlitch. A writer of “witches for the masses” books, Redlitch may have been the opening night’s audience favorite. Rumpled, overly earnest, Moritz is a master of physical comedy. A trouser leg that climbs too high when he sits, a verbal pause that extends a laugh. These add up to a character who’s fun.
Russell Parkman’s two-level set starts off with a perfect ’50s aluminium Christmas tree. There’s a too-red shag carpet with scatter pillows that becomes a bed for amorous activity. It gives the cast plenty of space to move in. “Bell, Book and Candle” runs through Feb. 3 at the Allen Theatre.