So, this is what happens when you settle in to review a play and a reading pops up. In this case, the reading was an elaborate one of Bell, Book and Candle by John van Druten, the 1950 romantic comedy that became a flick starring Kim Novak and James Stewart.
It was a reading because on this night (Jan. 24), the lead character Gillian, an urbane witch on the make for human love, was played at the last minute (almost literally) by CWRU/CPH MFA Acting Program participant Christa Hinckley. She was handed the script a bare six hours before curtain due to the original actor, Georgia Cohen, ralphing her guts out from food poisoning, the flu, or some other intestinal contretemps.
Of course, Hinckley carried the script for the whole show, and did a damned admirable job of it, all in all. Still, the timing between her and her co-players was spotty at best. And since we were often denied Ms. Hinckley’s eyes, focused as they were on her lines, it was hard to track her emotional transition from witch to human that makes this barely-there story at all tolerable.
As a result, it’s really not fair to go further into a deep a critical analysis of this performance. But looking beyond the awkwardness of the stand-in situation, a few things can be said. To begin with this play—even when performed splendidly—is a bit of a soggy biscuit.
The plot, which is not much more sophisticated than an episode of the old sit-com Bewitched, telegraphs its conclusion from the first couple minutes (Will the sexy young witch succeed in finding human love. Hmm, I wonder.)
And the pacing of some scenes seems glacial, a defect that director Michael Bloom doesn’t correct (if it’s even within his power, the play is that deadly).
Eric Martin Brown fences gamely with his role as Gillian’s supernaturally smitten boyfriend, and Marc Moritz adds a bit of zazz as Sidney Redlitch, a witch researcher. But Patricia Kilgarriff doesn’t squeeze enough laughs out of her elder witch status as Gillian’s aunt (paging Marion Lorne!), and Jeremy Webb as Gil’s brother seems stuck uncomfortably between a 1930s movie-sissy archetype and a sinister nogoodnik.
Even the modern, eclectic, trying-a-little-too-hard set by Russell Parkman feels like a concept board rather than an actual place humans (or witches) might live.
But hey, it’s a very mild comedy that ruffles no feathers. So if you’re recovering from something wretched (retched?)—as we hope Ms. Cohen is doing right now—this vanilla show will do nothing to disturb your fragile condition.
Bell, Book and Candle
Through February 3 at the Cleveland Play House, 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000