Regional Reviews: New Jersey
The Witch Tells Chilling, Bitter Tales
The old Witch, now as fearful as she is fearsome, thinks that someone has entered her cave. She imagines him to be a boy, now grown into manhood, whom she had abducted and abused until he had been able to escape her clutches. She imagines that he is perched among us in the darkness and she feels compelled to tell him a series of stories either denying or justifying her horror tale cruelty.
With erotic imagery, Witch recounts her adolescent coupling with Jimmy, the only boy she had ever loved. While off to see the world before marrying, Jimmy had drowned at sea causing her to draw forth her deadly powers because of her anger at the injustice of life. She tells a macabre tale of vile and painful disease coming to a farmer and his stock after the farmer had cruelly cheated her (and their recovery after they had restored to her what was hers) only to blame her bad reputation on others falsely attributing cause and effect to unrelated occurrences.
Witch chortles over the unbelievability of her own claim of coincidence, then tells the imagined intruder that she was only interested in bringing about justice. There is considerably more regarding her treatment of her imagined visitor and his sister, and other children, but you already have the picture.
In a tour de force solo performance, Andrea Gallo projects a pathetically bitter and unhappy woman whose pain has caused her to be cruel to the rest of the world. This Witch is a witch alright, but she also a very recognizable human being. She is one of those reprehensible people who does everything in her power to make everyone else as miserable as she is. That Andrea Gallo, playwright John Biguenet, and director SuzAnne Barabas are able to make us feel sympathy for this miserable wretch is a triumph for each of them.
Most importantly, John Biguenet is a true writer and poet. One of the great joys in theatregoing is being able to be thrilled by the power and beauty of words. In its entirety, Broomstick is written in iambic pentameter, and the words tickle and delight the ear. It is delivered to flawlessly devilish perfection by Gallo. For the most part, the poetry is delightfully reminiscent of the humorously grisly poetry Of Roald Dahl or Edward Gorey:
Additionally, there can be a tough and powerful erotic power in Biguenet's poetry:
Broomstick should eventually be published in an illustrated reader's edition as it would surely be a delight to read aloud. There are occasional false rhymes that fall roughly on the ear ("next" and "sex"/ "wrist" and "kissed"). And there is a realistically brutal story told by the Witch about witnessing a racist lynching which is clearly important to New Orleans based playwright Biguenet as an example of an evil begetting more evil, but it seems out of place in this phantasmagoric narrative. Fortunately, these miscues are small potatoes within a rich theatrical bouillabaisse.
The New Jersey Rep design team gets high marks here. Jessica Parks has designed an eye-popping log cabin cum witch's cavern. It is complete with grass and earthen stairs leading onto a shale floor, tree roots growing down through the ceiling, and a fireplace with a large pot. It is replete with paraphernaliaa fantastic mirror that appears simultaneously concave and convex, claw-like candelabra, a huge assortment of apothecary jars and bottles and much moremany which have a life of their own. Lighting designer Jill Nagle incorporates some dazzling color schemes, some of which shine out from openings between the logs which comprise the walls of the cottage. Witch is garbed by Patricia E. Doherty in an ornate black dress replete with devil associated symbols.
The New Jersey Repertory production of Broomstick is the first of its three National New Play Network world premiere productions. New productions will follow at the Southern Rep and Montana Repertory Theatre in 2014.
Broomstick has been extended through October 20, 2013 (Eves: Thursday, Friday and Saturday 8 PM/ Mats: Saturday 3 PM; Sundays 3 PM) at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey 07740; box office: 732-229-3166; online: www.njrep.org.
Broomstick by John Biguenet; directed by SuzAnne Barabas