Three names: John Biguenet, Vana O’Brien, Gemma Whelan. Throw them into the boiling pot, stir with eye of newt, and presto! It’s Broomstick, a tour de force one-woman show that runs at Artists Repertory Theatre through November 22.
Playwright John Biguenet is creator of Broomstick. A New Orleans native, Biguenet is perhaps best known for his Rising Water trilogy–in New Orleans, at least–and as a columnist for the New York Times beginning back in 2005 with his Hurricane Katrina coverage.
Vana O’Brien, who solos for 90 minutes as the play’s only character, The Witch, is one of Artists Repertory Theatre’s founders, and a well-known and much-loved local actor. I most recently saw her in 4000 Miles and she was amazing.
Gemma Whelen, Irish-born actor and more recently director, is particularly suited to direct this play, with its regional dialect and rhymed couplets. The Irish have a long and poetic oral tradition. Some things just come with the territory. Perhaps I am reading in too much, but never mind. Her directing is terrific.
As for the play, forget that eye of newt stuff. This is no Halloween fantasy. Rather it is a character study about a woman with a huge resentment. Or resentments. She has been wronged terribly over the years, and she does keep score. She holds court in a wonderfully cluttered, brambly set (nice job Kristin Willis Crosser and crew) somewhere in the swampy deep south. Blood has been shed on those floors.
The Witch talks with certainty in a lovely, lilting regional dialect. Anyone who has spent time in the south has heard some version of it. And like all great story tellers, The Witch is confident. Her story has never changed, her opinion of past events has never altered. Her soliloquy is meant to put us at ease and mesmerize, even though as the play meanders on we begin to question her reliability as a witness.
One thing that never wavers is Vana O’Brien’s command of the stage. For 90 minutes she owns it, to the point that at curtain the audience leapt to its feet in a spontaneous and much-deserved standing ovation!
Finally: Is The Witch really a witch? or just a strange and bitter old woman? Could go either way. The bayous, no doubt, are full of both, so you’ll have to decide for yourself.