9/18: Witches and Wordcraft, at NJ Rep

Broomstick8Confess, Witch: Andrea Gallo spells it like it is in BROOMSTICK, the play by John Biguenet going up this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.  (photos by SuzAnne Barabas)

Must be the Season of the Witch, and in haunts and hollers like downtown Long Branch — where Sandy’s surges and extended outages cast a dismal spell over autumn 2012 — they’ve got a lot of lost Halloweening to make up for.

Over at New Jersey Repertory Company, the clocks are being turned back to the witchin’ hour beginning this Thursday, September the 19th, when preview performances begin for Broomstick, the latest in a long line of world premiere presentations on lower Broadway — and a   production that arrives via the National New Play Network’s “rolling premiere” system.

Written by Big Easy-based dramatist John Biguenet, and directed by NJ Rep co-founder SuzAnne Barabas — the creative team who brought the hellbound suspenser Night Train to the stage — the one-act, one-character play marks a return to Long Branch for a performer who’s no stranger to being the whole show: Andrea Gallo, lone-star leading lady of 2011’s Donna Orbits the Moon.

In Broomstick, Gallo appears as a backwoods bruja in a talkative mood; a confessional crone who “unveils her life…somewhere between our material world and the realm of fantasy” as she “takes us back to our childhoods, when in our innocence we first wrestled with good and evil.” Weirdly wise and maybe even as old as the hills, she’s a sorceress with some secrets to spill — even if her secrets have nothing on the whammy that the playwright has planned for unsuspecting audiences.

Your upperWETside correspondent summoned Biguenet from his hoodoo-country home, to cast a spell regarding witches and wordcraft and women and things. Read on…

Broomstick5JOHN BIGUENET: It’s great to be back working with New Jersey Repertory…it’s is an absolute gem of a theater; one with a very small stage that they can somehow make look enormous or tiny. I trust their expertise, their level of artistry. And I know that they had a tough time of things with the storm last year…we certainly sympathize with something like that where I live. New Orleans these days can be likened to old documents, that have been erased and written over again…there’s a new city on top, but you can look closely and see was underneath.

This is the first fully staged production of Broomstick, and there must be some kind of magic at work, because the play’s going to go on to four productions in the year to come. I try to look in on productions of my plays when I can. The cardinal rule for any writer is to invest in a good suitcase.

The play is about the experience of going to the theater. It’s kind of a musical without an orchestra…an internalized story that draws the audience into its spell. And the set reflects that internalized aspect. We’re in a cabin in the woods at night; there’s a rocking chair and big pot, and a witch.

A role in a one-person play is so much more than just memorizing all the lines. There’s always a second person, with the audience functioning as that character. She greets us with the suggestion of ‘Oh, you’ve come back at last’,” but the question occurs to us, is there really somebody else there in the room with her? And is she really even a witch, or just half crazy?

You could say that we’re listening to the confessions of an older, independent woman…what it’s like to be an old woman who’s seen everything. She talks about how she got her powers, about her first love affair, confessing more and more as she goes along. She knows she’s going to die…eventually.

The whole idea of a ‘witch’ is really an indicator of the latent power of older women…people would just be afraid of somebody with that much knowledge, power, and independence. Civilization, and the basic continuity of the home, depended on the grandmothers…younger women invented agriculture, and the grandfathers didn’t have much of a role in things.

She has a relationship with language the rest of us don’t have. Witches derive much of their power from the language of casting spells, after all…and without giving away too much, I can say that in a play about a witch, there is a rationale about using language in unusual ways. The audience is going to find that her use of words may be surprising at first…but I think that after a few minutes it will all seem very natural; very right for this character and this play. Beyond that I’m sworn to secrecy!

Broomstick presents matinee and evening previews on September 19 and 20 (2pm and 8pm) and September 21 (3pm); opens September 21 at 8pm; presents a matinee performance on September 22, then continues until October 13 with performances Thursdays through Sundays. Ticket reservations, showtimes and additional information can be obtained here.