Sunday, November 1, 2015

Broomstick—Artists Rep.—SW Portland

A Wry, Witchin’ Good Time

This one-woman show about the angst of a Witch stars Vana O’Brien, is written by John Biguenet and directed by Gemma Whelan.  It is playing at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. and runs through November 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at

Perhaps one should begin with the nature of Evil or Villainy, as the theme of the play hinges on it.  I worked as an extra many years ago in Paint Your Wagon, most of it filmed in Baker City.  I remarked to Lee Marvin that he was always so convincing as a villain and how did he do it.  He said that you never play a villain as if he’s wrong.  He believes that he is right and justified in what he’s doing.  So it boiled done to perspective, as does the character in this story.

Also, one more point, although not mentioned in the play, if you believe in Evil, or the Devil, you must by default, believe in Goodness or a God, because one has no existence without the presence of the other (think about it).  And now, to the play which, by the way, is all written in rhyme:

Once upon a time

In a far-off land,

Mr. Sandman had a plan:

With one sweep of his hand

He put us to sleep,

And dreams became

Our permanent demand.

And so, here we are, story-tellers to the end.  Keep in mind that oral tradition is probably the oldest form of plays and our history.  And part of that heritage is the Lore of a people, among them fables and fairy tales, in part to teach us lessons.  But the major stumbling block to all this, is the perspective of the Teller, it is their viewpoint, not necessarily what really happened.  And, like magic, here appears our centerpiece for this tale, the Witch (Vana O’Brien).

She is a bit of a composite of all fairly tale hags from the European tales of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and the Wizard of Oz, also, Macbeth’s “three weird sisters,” to America’s Salem Witch Trials and the historic Bell Witch of the NE U.S. from the 1800’s.  I applaud, too, the fact that they chose not to dress and make her up as a “traditional” witch but instead chose the more human look and thus, she became more believable.

Although she may have powers beyond normal understanding, that doesn’t mean that she is totally in control of how they affect her on a personal basis.  She appears to be telling her tales to one or more “ghosts’ from the past that seem to haunt her.  Or is she just talking to keep herself awake so that her personal demons don’t overpower her?  Or is she even awake?  It seems that early memories may have caused the rift in her personality, as she witnessed some horrible deeds of the past.  Also, her boyhood love, as they grew to a more intimate relationship, had a tragic end.  This seemed to be the tipping point for her and from there on she took control, in more ways than one, of her life and of lives around her.

She can be very human and identifiable, as when she describes her first encounter with sex (beautifully written and portrayed), then can graphically recall witnessing the horror and callousness of the inhumanity of one person to another, to the pain of personal loss.  It some ways you can see why she has chosen the path she does.  And the relating of the Hansel and Gretel story through her eyes is a real treat for this Halloween-type tale.

I don’t want to tell you too much about the stories, as so much of the magic is due to O’Brien’s marvelous command of the stage and character.  Also the set is quite a work of Art (designer, Kristeen Willis Crosser), very organic and appears to have a life of its own.  And the lighting (designer, Carl Faber), very subtle, is also very active, as you move from one mood or aspect or her story to another.  The wig (Ashley Hardy) and coat (designer, Gregory Pulver) add a certain rustic beauty to the production, too.  Whelan never keeps the scenes static, always moving the story forward in a naturalistic style.

And what can you say about O’Brien, which has already been lauded many times before.  She is, without a doubt, one of Portland’s artistic treasures!  And it’s not just that she is always an asset to a production because of her professional approach but that she delivers her own unique, artistic choices as to the interpretation of a character.  In this case, her Witch is all too human, allowing us to identify with her and yet be appalled by some of her deeds.  She presents a “villain” you can understand.  In other words, “there but for the Grace of God, go I.”  Bravo, Ms. O’Brien…”may you live long and prosper!”

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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