It seems witchcraft is cyclical in popular culture, just like stories of vampires and incarnations of Peter Pan. Long before Harry Potter, The Craft, or television shows like “Charmed” or “Bewitched” premiered, John Van Druten’s Bell, Book and Candle presented witches (albeit playful and sweet ones) living among everyday citizens. The play ran on Broadway for seven months from 1950 to 1951, and was adapted (and expanded) in 1958 for a popular feature film version starring Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart; Out of the Box Community Theatre is now presenting Bell, Book or Candle in the basement of Hoge Memorial Presbyterian Church in a production that is more engaging than I anticipated considering the venue and my unfamiliarity with the theatre company.
Bell, Book and Candle is a romantic comedy about witches and warlocks living in New York City, focusing on an apartment building housing Gillian Holroyd (Rebecca J. Curran), her aunt Queenie (CJ Jamison), and a handsome but befuddled mere mortal named Shepherd Henderson (Scott Raymond Clay). Gillian has her eye on Shep as a mate, and she uses her powers to snare him, all the while trying to keep her aunt and brother, Nicky (Lee J. Ninde), from blowing their cover to a writer who has made a career of exposing witchcraft. The play takes place over the holiday season, making it an appropriate bit of counter programming to the countless productions of A Christmas Carol to be had at this time of the year, and it is chastely romantic and family friendly.
The set for Gillian’s apartment is the most impressive aspect of the production, appearing as if a swanky Manhattan apartment circa 1950 has been plopped onto the stage. From old magazines to ornate candelabra and vintage furniture, Gillian’s apartment appears lived in and functional. There are even small touches, like old fashioned light covers on the ceiling lights, that suggest a much earlier period of time rather than draw attention to it.
It’s the women that are the real stars of Bell, Book and Candle, and this production has two solid performers: Rebecca J. Curran as Gillian, and CJ Jamison as her aunt, Queenie. Ms. Curran is interesting to watch and is cast against type quite effectively; though I’ve seen Gillian played as just a vixen, Ms. Curran makes her more real, as someone who really is trying to assimilate with society and not draw attention to being a witch, though still very much knowing how to get her way. Ms. Jamison (who also directs the show) has a giggle as Queenie that is infectious and delightful, and the solid maroon color scheme of her dress up to her hair helps demonstrate the character’s eccentricity. The energy of the piece dips only when one of these two aren’t on stage, moments of which are thankfully quite limited in length.
Out of the Box Community Theatre’s Bell, Book and Candle is sweetly comic, dated in a delightful way, and hits the mark far more than it misses it. There are some awkward moments that keep it from being a solid show, but there are so many more that are truly funny and well played. It’s an admirable effort put forth by a small but fervent group.
** 3/4 out of ****
Bell, Book and Candle continues through to December 13th in Hoge Memorial Presbyterian Church at 2930 West Broad Street in Columbus, and more information can be found at http://www.ootbct.org