If a play about witches is not your cup of tea, than maybe a romance is. Both are elements in “Bell, Book and Candle” which opened last weekend at Huntington Playhouse. I suspect that in the middle of the last century, when the play was written, it was also billed as a comedy. To my sensibilities, the script has not aged well. The “romance” emerges more than the comedy.
Gillian Holroyd owns an apartment building in New York city. She has a desire to meet Shep, the handsome man who rents the apartment above her. Being a witch, instead of inviting him in for a drink, she puts a spell on him. This starts the plot rolling. Shep actually wants to complain about Gillian’s wacky aunt Queenie whom he has discovered inside his apartment a number of times, going through his things. It’s almost an early TV sitcom setup.
“Bell Book and Candle” works through the premise that a witch cannot cry tears, or continue with witchy activities after falling in love. You can probably guess the way the plot is headed already. The Huntington production has a good cast and after the leaden first act, the second act seems more brisk.
Kaycee Zack as Gillian brings out the conflicted feelings of the central character. Because Zak takes the character of Gillian seriously, so do we in the audience, and that is one of the strengths of this production. It’s a fantasy that is rooted in quasi reality. Steve Martin as romantic interest Shep does not get to develop his character as much. He spends a lot of time acting surprised and indredulous as the show’s dozen or so of major revelations are made.
The audience at the performance I attended enjoyed Jackie Kelly as the flamboyant witch Aunt Queenie. Equal parts doting aunt and eccentric aunt the role is a plum for a performer. Playwright John Van Druten stirs up interest in the play with two lesser characters. Bob Kenderes is author Sydney Redlitch, a buffoon writing a book on witches in New York City. Chris Bizub is Gillian’s brother Nicky who is a sort of pre-new-age warlock, enjoying life on the fringe of even witch society.
Director Chuck Tisdale and the cast present a faithful realization of the dated show. “Bell Book and Candle” runs through September 8 at Huntington Playhouse.