Playwright John Biguenet on the Magic of Language in ‘Broomstick’

Jenny OHara in Broomstick at the Fountain Theatre

Jenny OHara in ‘Broomstick’ at the Fountain Theatre

Wickedly Entertaining West Coast Premiere Stars Jenny O’Hara at the Fountain Theatre

John Biguenet’s new play, Broomstick, opening at the Fountain Theatre this Saturday in its west coast premiere, features a witch who might be in the habit of cooking children or perhaps giving enemies “a little push or two” down a well to their death. Where does Biguenet’s delightfully dark side come from? It started when the New Orleans writer was a child himself, growing up without air-conditioning in a working-class patch of Gentilly.

“If you grew up in New Orleans, like I did, you know that there is darkness in the world – and that some things can only be seen in darkness. Daylight obscures so much. I had to plunge into that darkness to write a play that’s both terrifying and comic.”

“Like a lot of New Orleans locals, I’m obsessed with old things and with the past that clings to everything here, ” he confesses. “Put all that together, and you end up haunted. I’m not the only New Orleans writer to feel it. Ghosts and witches are a natural subject here. “

Playwright John Biguenet

Playwright John Biguenet

Biguenet began working on Broomstick in 2009, while he was finishing his Hurricane Katrina trilogy (which will be published by LSU Press in 2015). In the plays Rising Water (2006). Shotgun (2009) and Mold (2013), he recounted the flooding, its physical damages and the toll it took on individuals. But in Broomstick, the powerful force is language and the magical spell it can cast.  

“My witch can’t turn a tree into a fireball – special effects don’t interest me, anyway – but I could give her the power of language. Theater is all about language, and, when you think about it, language also is the source of a witch’s power. She can cast spells. She can curse us. When she cackles it raises the hair on your neck. And she can seduce with her stories.”
Jenny O'Hara

Jenny O’Hara

Biguenet adds to the magic with a trick of his own: The entire play is actually a poem, written in rhymed iambic couplets. 

Biguenet first experimented with verse in his Katrina plays. Using poetic devices helped him – a storm victim himself – as he struggled to establish emotional distance on his material.

“Broomstick” takes those subtle verse experiments to another level, however.

“I hid the rhymes in ‘Broomstick,'” Biguenet said. “In previous productions, it often took 10 or 15 minutes for audiences to realize what was happening. The effects of rhyme and meter came over listeners slowly, almost subliminally, wrapped in sentences full of pauses and exclamations. I wanted it to sound natural – and to sounds like a fairy tale, too. I wanted a mystery worthy of a real witch.”

In Broomstick, the witch’s story is in part a confession. But it’s full of her wisdom, and Biguenet thought an older woman would serve as a remarkably free observer of the world.

But the witch is more folk storyteller than philosopher, and not at all passive. She’s frightening when chopping carrots with a cleaver as she recounts a tale of another old woman reputed to have claimed a few fingers. The language in the play is poetic, rhythmic and beguiling like a spell and at times vivid like a horror story.

Jenny O'Hara in 'Broomstick' (rehearsal photo by Ed Krieger)

Jenny O’Hara in ‘Broomstick’ (rehearsal photo by Ed Krieger)

Broomstick won a National New Play Network award and is opening in several cities this season as part of a NNPN Rolling World Premiere. It opens this Saturday night at The Fountain Theatre, starring Stage/Film/TV veteran Jenny O’Hara.

The play is perfectly suited to the fall season of ghosts, haunted houses, black cats and pumpkins.

“I’d be happy for it to be the Halloween play,” Biguenet says.”After a show at the world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company, a woman from the audience told me she was a witch and that it was a very accurate portrayal,” Biguenet says. “She wanted to reserve 20 tickets so she could bring her coven the next week.”

Of the upcoming opening at the Fountain Theatre, he beams, “I’m sure it will be a great production.”

photos by Ed Krieger

Broomstick Now Playing to Nov 30  (323) 663-1525  Get Tickets

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