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Review: Broomstick

Tyler Gillespie is bewitched by John Biguenet’s new play

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The woman sews teeth into her skirt. She says they help her forget painful memories. Lightning strikes, and the sky grows red. She sits on a rocking chair and curls into a ball, her hair long and ragged. She asks her unseen guest to stay for dinner. "If people knew how rare I placed a curse, they'd stop blaming me when things go wrong," she says. She is a witch, and she shares her story in Broomstick. Southern Rep presents the local premiere of Loyola University professor and author John Biguenet's latest play at Ashe Cultural Arts Center.

  Broomstick is a one-woman show exploring the life of a witch (Liann Pattison). She addresses the audience as if it was a house guest. As she starts to cook dinner, the witch tells a story about how she once saved two siblings, a brother and sister, from an evil "hag." The sister thought her brother was going to get cooked in a casserole, as in the story of Hansel and Gretel, but the witch denies attempting to eat the boy. She says the children ran away, just like many of her other guests. It's a recurring theme that people come into the witch's life, then disappoint her.

  The witch is a misunderstood and sympathetic character. Pattison is exciting and intense — and terrifying when she wields a cleaver. The work is written in heroic couplets, but it takes a while to realize the subtle rhyme scheme, and the witch's stories are poetic meditations on betrayal and revenge. In recounting the witch's life, Pattison adapted different voices — dropping an octave or raising her pitch — impressively conjuring the people in her stories.

  Throughout the show, the witch walks around her cabin and throws ingredients, including carrots and insect-shaped things, into a cauldron. This activity helps give her stories more energy. Set designer David Raphel's small cabin full of cooking tools almost becomes a character itself.

  Many witch narratives revolve around a woman scorned by a male lover, but this story focuses on her father's betrayals. As a girl, she saw him and townsmen kill three black men for allegedly taking fruit from an old woman. She also caught her father in the throes of passion with a woman who was not her mother. There's no wonder why she distrusts men. She says she has had a hand in destroying several people, but she frames some of her actions as self-protection, and her story is more complicated than it originally seemed.

  Pattison is superb, and director Amy Holtcamp's Broomstick is beguiling. — TYLER GILLESPIE

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