2nd Story Theatre’s Artistic Director, Ed Shea, conceded to an opening night audience of John Van Druten’s “Bell, Book & Candle” that the last two plays at the Warren theatre were not that well received by his audiences (and this critic). He explained that they were taken from movie scripts and not penned by their authors specifically for the stage.
“Good plays need two things,” he said, “An agent of change, and resistance to that change. That’s what makes this play so good.”
And he’s right. “Bell, Book & Candle” is a good play. It has humor, a clever plot, good dialogue and interesting characters. Director Mark Peckham has taken this 1950s play, set it in the round with three short acts running under two hours, and kept the pace fast and farcical.
It also has good performances, especially by Valerie Westgate as Gillian Holroyd, the modern-day witch who casts a spell over her unsuspecting tenant, causing him to fall madly in love with her. There’s only one problem. He’s about to propose to his girlfriend, who happens to be an old rival of Gillian.
Alas, Gillian loses her magical powers when she unexpectedly falls in love with Shepard (David Nando Rogers), but not before the situation becomes complicated by her brother (Charles Lafond) and aunt (Isabel O’Donnell), who are also witches. (He’s not actually a witch, but a warlock). Enter a writer (Susan Bowen Powers) who wants to write a book about modern day witches, and the comical complications boil to a crisis.
Ron Cesario has designed some wonderful ’50s costumes, and Peckham sticks to the spirit of the ’50s. Gillian claps her hands to mysteriously shut off the lights, a method common in many households today but thought of as witchcraft back then.
2nd Story’s final play for the summer season is light, fluffy and lots of fun. For the romantics out there, it is a nice little love story with a happy ending.
I must digress with an example of what makes live theatre something extra special.
In an early scene on press night, Gillian throws a book on a coffee table, knocking over a martini, spilling the liquid all over the table. Nicky runs immediately to the cabinet, takes out a towel, and cleans it up, like it was in the script.
“Just yesterday I asked the stage manager to put a towel in the cabinet, just in case,” Peckham told me.
A perfect example of the spontaneity of live theatre, a smart director, and two highly professional actors.
“Bell, Book & Candle” is at 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market St. in Warren, through September 3. If you want to be bewitched be sure to catch it. Tickets are $40, $25 for under 25. Call 247-4200 for reservations, or go online at www.2ndstorytheatre.com.