There are witches in Murray Hill.
In Waterloo Community Playhouse’s production of John Van Druten’s Bell, Book, and Candle, the young witch Gillian “Gill” Holroyd (Kristen Rooff) finds herself smitten with the tenant upstairs, Shepherd Henderson (Danny Katz). Henderson is unaware of Gill’s identity, nor of her Aunt Queenie’s (Beverly McCusker) similar secret, despite her occasional appearance in his apartment.
But Henderson is engaged to Gill’s rival from college. What must be done is that of magic.
Rooff is excellent as the aggravated young witch. Her hurried speech, which sadly makes some words indistinguishable, perfectly conveys her state of mind, making her act three near-meltdown a triumph.
Katz happens to portray the changed Henderson after the titular love spell is cast with ease. At one point in the show, Henderson says that it was like seeing her for the first time. This is magnificently shown without force. Katz makes one believe that Henderson is truly bewitched–forgive the pun–by Gill.
One of the finest performances is given by WCP newcomer John Molseed in the role of Gill’s warlock brother Nicky Holroyd. Molseed gives a delectable performance as the snide, conniving brother that wears tacky blazers and uses grandiose gestures to accomplish tasks as mundane as turning out the lights. While magic is something simple and needed to be hidden to Gill, something helpful and perhaps flaunted by Queenie, it is convenient and fun to Nicky. I can only hope that Molseed returns to the Hope Martin Theater’s stage.
McCusker gives an excellent performance as Queenie. She walks around the stage in the flowy black and grey outfits designed by Katrina Sandvik evoking the image of a witch of lore.
Early in act one, the Holroyd’s give each other Christmas presents. Gill gives her aunt a black lace headdress. She asks her niece what it does.
“It makes you look fabulous,” she says before explaining that it has no powers. McCusker then gives the reaction of one that has just received a hideous sweater.
Although brief, Adam Osterhaus gives an amusing performance as the drunk writer that chronicles magic. His performance is not hammy, but plays on simple visual gags and slurred speech.
Geoff Ehrendreich’s set is of a nice, cozy apartment, granted it is probably larger than most Manhattan apartments, but it is also implied that it is an old house converted into units. The special effects also add to the atmosphere of the show. Doors fly open, lights turn on with a point or a snap and sparks cackle as a spell is cast.
The only sad thing about this production, under the production WCP artistic director Charles Stillwill, is a languid second act, which is mainly spent with Henderson gushing about Gill and Nicky planning to blow his sister’s secret wide open. This is not a fault of the cast and director, it seems. There are other parts in the show that drag, but they too seem to be the fault of Van Druten.
(Bell, Book and Candle runs through Feb. 14 at the Hope Martin Theater in the Waterloo Center for the Arts. Curtain is at 7 pm, except for the performance on Feb. 8, which has a 2 pm curtain. Tickets are $22 for adults, $19 for students and can be purchased at their website, wcpbhct.org, or by calling the box office at 291-4494.)