Arriving just in time for Halloween and providing ample reason for Thanksgiving through the month of November, Jenny O’Hara’s star turn in Broomstick turns the West Coast Premiere of John Biguenet’s acclaimed solo play into a veritable theatrical event. Factor in scenic designer Andrew Hammer’s extraordinary witch’s lair of a set and you’ve got a performance and production design sure to set the L.A. playgoing public abuzz.
Though O’Hara doesn’t make her entrance till after lighting design master Jennifer Edwards has turned on each and every one of the countless candles adorning our witchy host’s abode, Hammer’s set (masterfully decorated by Misty Carlisle) already provides a pre-show feast for the eyes soon to be added to by Peter Bayne’s mysteriously spooky original music and sound design and most importantly by the spellbinding performance we are about to witness.
“I hear you in the darkness there. That smell of yours, I’d know it anywhere,” the Appalachian-born-and-bred Witch intones to an invisible guest somewhere on the other side of the fourth wall, possibly the adult version of one of those lost young lads who long ago sought refuge from an abusive home, and who has apparently come back for more all these years later.
From this point on, our spellbinding hostess takes us on a journey through her past, one that allows playwright Biguenet to explore diverse aspects of witch mythology and leading lady O’Hara to dig deep into as complex a character as the Los Angeles theater treasure has played over the course of her decades-long career.
Biguenet and O’Hara transport us back to a childhood traumatized by a father’s participation in a horrendous, horrifying lynching; the death-by-drowning of her first love and the revenge taken by our then young heroine on the ocean, collateral damage be damned; punishment doled out on her father’s alley cat of a lover that might have sent a less crafty perpetrator to the stake; the “push or two” our narrator might have seen fit to administer to her lover’s other lover, the better to insure her “suicide”; and a visiting Hansel and Gretel as seen through the oven owner’s eyes.
Press releases tout the fact that Broomstick has been “written entirely in verse” (and rhyming verse at that), though under Stephen Sachs’ inspired direction, O’Hara displays a master Shakespearean’s gift for making us forget that what we’re hearing is poetry, albeit with a mountain dialect (expertly coached by Tyler Seiple) unlikely to be heard from The Bard.
That O’Hara adds to this as wide and vivid a range of emotions as any lover of great acting could wish for—from rage to grief to folksy good humor and everything in between—makes Broomstick’s box-office success and ensuing award nominations such a sure thing that no further sorcery should prove necessary.
Additional design kudos go to costume designer Shon LeBlanc for Witch’s lovingly designed rags, her head topped by appropriately scraggly locks.
Terri Roberts is production stage manager, Carol A. Simon is assistant stage manager, and Scott Toumey is technical director. Broomstick is produced by Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor.
It takes an extraordinary actor to hold an audience spellbound without aid of costars. Jenny O’Hara is just such an actor, and although we never see our solo star take actual flight astride her witch’s broom, Broomstick allows her to soar high indeed.
The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles.
October 30, 2014
Photos: Ed Krieger