BWW Review: Semi-Charmed BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE at the Granite Theatre
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE, playing at Westerly's Granite Theatre through October 28th, is the perfect choice of a play for this month, when thoughts of Halloween and all things spooky and mystical are in the air. Written by John Van Druten and first produced on Broadway in 1950, follows Gillian Holroyd, a powerful witch living in New York City, who becomes interested in her upstairs neighbor, the publisher Shep Henderson. While it would be easy enough for her to cast a spell and make him hers, she's also faced with the prevailing thought that witches can't fall in love - and those who do, lose their powers. But believing that's an old wives' tale, Gillian takes the risk and finds that nothing is as straightforward as it seems. Unsurprisingly, this play was an inspiration for the TV show Bewitched.
Anna Convery's direction keeps the two hour show marching along, and the supernatural elements are handled deftly and naturally, not with over-the-top histrionics that have plagued other productions of this show.
The performances themselves are a mixed bag. Gillian is portrayed by Ricci Mann, last seen at the Granite Theatre as Catherine in Proof. Her unwitting beau is portrayed by Brian Olsen, who has both acted in and directed numerous productions at the Granite, but whose appearance here comes across as too modern to portray a convincing typical 1950s guy. Mann and Olsen both warmed into their roles by the third act, following intermission, but unfortunately this meant that some of the earlier, most crucial parts of the show were less than convincing. A role such as Gillian requires an obvious change in character as she grapples with what's happening to her and the tough decisions she has to make, but unfortunately the changes weren't enough here to make this portrayal truly enchanting.
Nicky, Gillian's brother and fellow witchcraft practitioner, is played with just the right amount of humor and sass by Warren Usey, who seems perfectly at home on-stage while making his Rhode Island acting debut. Beth Jepson is every bit the eccentric Aunt Queenie, from her glamorous costumes and giant quilted purse, to her affected voice, which works very well for this character. David Jepson, as the author who's interested in witchcraft and "summoned" by one of Gillian's spells (and who is also the show's producer), also hit every note just right, in both speech and physicality, enhanced by a costume including an ostentatious Dr. Who-esque scarf.
And, thankfully, Pyewacket, Gillian's feline familiar, is portrayed by an actual cat instead of a stuffed one. Clemmie was a hit before the show even started, with more than one audience member hoping she too would appear at the opening night cast meet-and-greet afterwards. Indeed, Clemmie was adorable and well-behaved during her scenes, moreso than any of the cats I personally know would have been!
The action all takes place in Gillian's apartment, which was a mixed bag of near 1950s elements and modern items that felt anachronistic, especially the modern plastic intercom by the door. Between scenes and before the acts, snippets of appropriate songs such as "Love Potion No. 9" and "I Put a Spell On You" were played over the speakers, adding to the atmosphere.
Despite some of the uneven aspects of this production, the show is an entertaining one and perfectly suited for this season. Performances of Bell, Book and Candle are Thursday through Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Tickets for this show are $20, 62 and older is $17 and children (12 and under) are $12. For reservations, directions or other information, call the Box Office at 401-596-2341 or choose your seats through online ticketing at granitetheatre.com.