(LONG BRANCH, NJ -- SEPTEMBER 21, 2013) -- NJ Rep's latest premiere, "Broomstick", opened last weekend. Set in a remote cabin deep in the woods, the one-woman play is a fascinating study into the mind of a serial killer told as if it was a fairy-tale. It's sort of like Dahmer meets Hansel and Gretel. It's spooky, funny, and extremely well acted -- perfect to get you into the spirit of Halloween.
Andrea Gallo stars as an old, single woman who has lived in that cabin for years. Yet, oftentimes, she hasn't lived alone. The self-proclaimed witch has had a series of children be her guest for spells at a time. Some were runaways; others simply found lost in the woods; regardless of how they arrived, the witch convinces them they don't have anyone who cares for them on the outside. As the play opens, she wakes in the night to the sounds she thinks are of someone at the door. When she looks outside, she believes it's one of her kids returning home, years later as an adult.
Written by John Biguenet, the play is a masterful look inside the psychological problems that could cause someone to go off the deep end and venture where evil lurks. For the witch, this involves a series of "coincidences" through the years where she was blamed for someone else's misfortunes. There were crops that wouldn't grow, skin rashes that caused itching to the point of anguish, and strange insects that appeared to be under her control. Just enough history to have people swear they had a witch in their midst.
"When things go wrong, it's always me they blame," she says.
In her mind, all she was ever trying to do was keep the children from harm. Yet, something bad always seems to happen. She's haunted by the memory of each former guest and she's haunted by the memory of her one true love; a loss that led her to becoming the woman she is today.
Biguenet's script is often read in rhymes, furthering the nursery rhyme effect. As the play moves forward, it becomes more and more entangled into the world of schizophrenia and real-life horror. You'll likely find yourself remembering just how warped the lyrics in your old nursery rhymes really were...
Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all
Gallo is tremendous. She's got the role down so well it's one of those performances you couldn't imagine followed by anyone else. Equally amazing is the incredible lighting and sound effects within the play (by far the best I've ever seen at NJ Rep) and a stunning stage design. The special effects for the mirror alone are worth the price of admission. Between the effects, Gallo's breathtaking performance, and superb direction by SuzAnne Barabas, "Broomstick" is a clear winner for the season! Highly recommended!
Note: while the subject matter revolves around a witch, it is clearly meant for older audiences. The play runs about 90 minutes straight, no intermission. It runs at NJ Rep through October 13 and then will move on to three additional venues as part of its rolling world premiere from the National New Play Network. Next up is a run at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey in January, Southern Rep (New Orleans) in June 2014, and Montana Repertory Theater next September.
NJ Rep is located at 179 Broadway in Long Branch, NJ. For more information visit http://www.njrep.org
PHOTO: SUZANNE BARABAS