The star of the Silver Spring Stage production of "Bell, Book and Candle" can make an audience laugh without uttering a single line.
All she has to do is look pretty, occasionally twitch her tail and stare at the crowd with that lovable "GET ME OFF THIS STAGE" expression, and she brings down the house.
Talent like that is a fairly natural thing to a cat, but director Ed Bishop deserves some of the credit for casting Ginger, a living, purring kitty, in the role of Pyewacket, the witch's "familiar" in John Van Druten's 1950 comedy about love and the supernatural.
Of a couple of dozen plays in Van Druten's career, this is his best-known--unless you count his short story that inspired part of the script for "Cabaret," or his earlier play "I Remember Mama," which launched a classic TV show in the early '50s.
"Bell, Book and Candle" was made into a popular movie in 1958 starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. I'm not sure who played the cat.
It's the story of Gillian Holroyd, a young New York witch who has grown tired of her life as a magical creature and decides to try her hand at love, an emotion that is supposed to deprive a witch of her powers.
Gillian sets her sights on Shepherd Henderson, a successful book publisher who lives upstairs. With the help of Pyewacket, she casts a spell on the hapless Shepherd, causing him to fall for the bewitching Gillian and immediately dump his fiancee, who is characterized as a rather nasty woman and deserving of a good dumping.
All seems well until Gillian's warlock brother, Nicky, disapproves of her affair with a non-witch and contrives to break things up.
The Silver Spring production, which is nicely paced and clocks in just over two hours, keeps the audience intrigued, though not exactly in stitches.
Bishop is at his best in staging scenes where confusion and anger hit their stride, but he is less successful in crafting romantic moments that convince the audience that the lovers are made for each other.
For some reason, he tries to update the time frame, setting the play in the 1960s. Except for costumes (which he coordinates with Roney Shaw) and incidental music, the effect is not very apparent.
Performances from the six-member cast (counting the cat) show flashes of talent as well as a few flat spots, especially in the early scenes.
Gillian comes across as a likable, emotionally confused woman in her portrayal by Natalia Bystrianyk. But it's not clearly apparent how Gillian really feels about Shepherd, or exactly when she has arrived at the point of no return in her relationship with him.
Scott Reichert, as Shepherd, seems a little unsure of himself in the early going but responds formidably when his character becomes angry at discovering he has been a victim of witchcraft.
Mikel Clinton drew laughs from Friday night's packed crowd for his over-the-top performance as Nicky, though he lets his character slide in and out of caricature, making it sometimes too obvious that Clinton is acting.
Very natural portrayals are turned in by Jill S. Lambe, as Gillian's batty aunt Queenie, and John Bird, as the eccentric writer Sidney Redlitch.
And, of course, you can't say enough about Ginger, an actress who offers a performance that could easily be called spellbinding.
"Bell, Book and Candle" continues at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 5, at Silver Spring Stage, 10145 Colesville Rd., in the Woodmoor Shopping Center, Silver Spring. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for those age 17 and younger and age 65 and older. Call 301-593-6036 for reservations.