Events » Stage Previews and Reviews

Review: Broomstick

Tyler Gillespie is bewitched by John Biguenet’s new play


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

Add a comment