CAULDRON BUBBLE The ladies work their magic in Ogunquit Playhouse’s The Witches of Eastwick. (photo by Gary Ng)
Trapped, suppressed, and unsatisfied with the small-mindedness of their small New England town, what are three divorcées of scandalous creative powers to do? Turn to the devil, of course. His name is Darryl, he relocates promptly from New York when called, and it’s all as easy as a few loose words over girls-night martinis, in The Witches of Eastwick. Originally a 1984 John Updike novel, then a 1987 film starring Jack Nicholson, and now a musical comedy to boot, Witches is onstage in a luxurious production at the Ogunquit Playhouse, directed by Sean Kerrison, featuring Sally Struthers as Felicia, the shrill busybody who runs tiny, prudish Eastwick.
The Ogunquit Playhouse’s characteristically lavish production design does a fine job of conjuring the Puritan roots of 1967 Eastwick, Rhode Island: sliding panels are fashioned as the clapboards and rooflines of old New England colonials, and their muted grey walls take on a range of diabolical hues as the magic happens within them. They slide open to reveal the silhouette of a classic harbor upstage, and, in somewhere in the middle, the private rooms behind the old Yankee boards.
Our three women who yearn inside those walls are teacher and cellist Jane (Mamie Parris), gently stuttering reporter and poet Suki (Nancy Anderson), and bohemian sculptor Alex (Sara Gettelfinger). Unattached, artistic, and adulterously attractive to other women’s husbands, they don’t fit the stultifying expectations of Eastwick, but when Darryl buys the huge Lennox house, it proves perfect for a ménage à quatre. The women’s characters approach caricatures, in flavors of auburn, blonde, and raven, but these actresses give them a zinging rapport, technical excellence, and lots of humor. Jane does her spread-for-the-cello schtick as classic comedy, Suki sings an impressive solo that accelerates from stuttering to a lightning patter, and sensual Alex vamps around her bosomy sculptures with tongue loosely in cheek.
As for Darryl, James Barbour has the difficult job of playing a character one can’t avoid comparing to Jack Nicholson. However, in contrast to Nicholson’s short, pudgy, balding, greasy Darryl, Barbour is actually tall, slim, full-haired, and—to all appearances—well washed. Still, suave his devil is not: he’s a lampoon of suavity, a buffoon of long-schlong jokes and louche self-regard, and Barbour lets us roll our eyes and like it. And as the show’s prig par excellence, Sally Struthers (of All in the Family fame) is super, game to give Felicia all her warts and a sourpuss propriety as she scowls about like a top-heavy little soldier of righteousness. She also dexterously maneuvers the slight-of-hand required to manifest the digestive unpleasantness of Felicia’s hexing.
As for Felicia’s minions in town, Ogunquit’s excellent ensemble of suspicious housewives and clueless husband performs some dynamite, sharply blocked numbers that reveal the townspeople’s envious meanness over phone- and clotheslines; they even veer into the grotesque, as the wives start mimicking the witches. More fine supporting work comes from Jim Walton, as the henpecked husband of Felicia, and from the almost absurdly mellifluous Brittney Santoro as Jennifer, the sweet, strawberry-blonde-ponytailed girlfriend of Alex’s straight-laced son Michael (Joey Barriero, endearingly virginal). Finally, in a wink to the movie, Darryl’s hilarious major domo, Fidel (Jason Perez), is not an inscrutable giant but a laconic little person, who frequently slips off to satisfy a woman or feed at the buffet table.