Meg Currell READ TIME: 3 MIN.

What are you afraid of? Getting lost in the dark woods? Cannibalism? Being separated from your family?

Being misunderstood?

In the one-woman play "Broomstick," playwright John Biguenet explores how relationships can haunt us, even as our memories morph from reality to our facsimile interpretation. Using a cadence reminiscent of Shakespeare's rhymed couplets, Biguenet's words sing stories and poetry. "Broomstick" provides an intriguing conversation about the nature of myth and the evolution of stories.

Starring as the venerable crone, named simply "Witch," is Vana O'Brien, who was so wonderful in "4,000 Miles" that I jumped at the chance to see her again. O'Brien is marvelous as the sinister Appalachian woman tucked into her primitive cottage. The Witch is speaking to a visitor, someone she knew many years ago. She lapses into recollection, digging into her vault of memories.

"Broomstick" is like spending an afternoon with the oldest person in your family, the uncle who tells endless war stories, the grandmother who remembers every ancestor's story; only the Witch comes from the perspective of one who has been terribly misjudged.

"Broomstick" functions as an aggregator of stories about wicked witches in fairy tales all told from the perspective of the witch. The Witch tells of having rescued a boy and girl lost in the forest, and then being accused of kidnapping them. She speaks of neighbors beset by trauma whose ill fortune turned after making some kind of agreement with the Witch. Her ease with herbal remedies and her cat causes people to suspect her of witchcraft, which pushes her further from the circle of society.

Biguenet's text flows like words from a spell book, dark and brooding, hypnotic and expressive. "It's funny how the dark reveals things too much light conceals." Not just a refutation of her branding as a witch, "Broomstick" touches on the reasons the Witch hides herself away, safe in her solitude. Her pain at discovering her father's dark side, the loss of her one great love, her anguish at society's rejection are all exposed, a sad woman alone in the world.

Whether she is truly a witch is intentionally unclear. I prefer to think of her as the wise, tough old woman who has refused to conform to society's expectations, who shies away from people because they continue to misjudge her, who talks to herself all day just to have someone to talk to, but is beginning to lose her grip on reality from being alone so much.

"Snow and pain," she says. "Difference being, pain doesn't seem to melt." Underneath her fearsome exterior, dressed in baubles and old teeth, she is nursing wounds she can't let heal. An injustice collector, my grandmother would have called her, with her tally of insults and righteous indignation. Seems all she needs is someone to talk to.

The set for "Broomstick" is magical, a branch-bound wall and a staircase built into a tree. There's plenty of cauldron smoke, and sounds from the forest, and a doll just creepy enough to suggest some ill fate has befallen a child. The ambiance and stories leave you wondering whether this is a witch or just a very sad, lonely, outcast person. "You kick a stone, you might just break a foot -- and I'm the toughest stone that's ever put."

"Broomstick" is an enjoyable diversion for a chilly fall day, a suitable accompaniment to a cup of mulled cider and a snuggly sweater. There is much to learn from spending an hour or two with this Witch.

"Broomstick" runs through Nov. 22 at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St. Portland, OR 97203. For tickets and information, call 503-241-1278 or visit

by Meg Currell

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.

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