Playwright John Biguenet’s “Broomstick” currently casting its spell over audiences at the Fountain Theatre is a short concerto of jarring contradictions.
It is a strange story told by an old Bayou crone to an audience she treats as intimate. The tale we are told is one supposedly familiar to us, and one that casts us as “familiars” to the storyteller. She, the storyteller, is a simple back country soul who speaks the language of one unlettered in a clipped elegant cadence of rhyming couplets; an aged hermitess who greets us with hospitality, whose cherry amiability carries the slightest shade of foreboding. She is a docile, doddering harmless frump whose tales are told with the distinct tinting of something both threatening and dangerous.
Whatever else Mr. Biguenet does or does not accomplish with this piece, he thoroughly succeeds in engaging us.
What first engages the audience as they enter the show, grips them by the throat in fact, is a set, a witches’ cottage that is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Set designer Andrew Hammer in collaboration with Misty Carlisle as prop designer and set dresser have definitely achieved one of the most dazzling sets of the year. It is a set, however, quite capable of overwhelming a production were that production in the hands of a director unequal to the task of employing it.
Fortunately, director Stephen Sachs has the skills and stagecraft to avoid such a pitfall. Likewise actress Jenny O’Hara who portrays “the witch” is not a talent in peril of being upstaged by any set this side of the Taj Mahal.
The core of O’Hara’s performance is the deftness which manages the role’s chimerical nature. We are never quite certain of whose presence we are in; a delusional and downtrodden soul or individual with the power to remedy the wrongs of the world by removing the wrongdoers.
Playwright Biguenet is also a novelist which would be apparent to one even without reading the program notes.
“The difference between snow and pain,” he writes, “is that pain don’t melt.”
Biguenet’s meaning to word ratio in the play gives to the audience an experience which is more poetic than dramatic in execution, and to his credit he handles this blurring of the creative lines with aplomb so the show has no sense of being “out of balance”.
All in all, thanks to the talents of Sachs, O’Hara and others at the Fountain, Biguenet’s show is worthy of inclusion into the honored ranks of “ghoulies and ghostly and things that go bump in the night.”