The current new and improved version of Brooms: A Play About Saying Yes, written by Both Hands Theatre Company co-founders Tamara Kissane and Cheryl Chamblee and directed with brio by Chamblee, with assistance from Kissane, is a bold and brassy, but only partially successful experiment in avant-garde theater. Brooms will complete its two-week run July 20-22 at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC, as part of Manbites Dog’s “Other Voices Series.”
Using a bizarre telemarketing call as a springboard for comedy, Brooms explores the nature and necessity of romantic relationships from a feminine perspective. Chamblee and Kissane, with the assistance of set designers Jessica Poland and Jeff Bergman, lighting designer Cecilia Durbin and assistant lighting designer Maya Waite-Jones, and costume designer Dierdre Shipman, create an impressive arena in which logic and emotion can collide — and, indeed, fight to the death, if necessary. But the script, which starts out with such promise and occasional flashes of brilliance, falters in the final segments before its head-scratching conclusion.
Metaphorically, the four characters in Brooms — Dana Marks (Poppy), Jackie Marriott (Dahlia), Jane Allen Wilson (Violet), and Leigh Holmes (Iris) — are all fading flowers of young womanhood. That is to say, they are single women fast approaching the age of spinsterhood. Although all four of them are still more or less actively seeking that Special Someone, they are discouraged, because they have been kissing a lot more frogs than princes (or, in one case, a princess) — if they get in pucker distance of anyone at all. Not only are they well past the age at which they expected to get married and settle down and start their families, they are increasingly conscious of the fact that their biological clocks are ticking, ticking, ticking, and their eggs are getting older by the minute. If they want to have children, they better do it sooner rather than later.
Consequently, these four increasingly desperate females are prime targets for a wily and infernally persistent telemarketer (Lance Waycaster), who is selling a magical broom that he claims will sweep their target mate off his (or her) feet. After magically summoning their Special Someone, all the women have to do is clasp the hand of their target mate, and jump the broom three times, and — voilà! — they will be married.
After each of the four purchases a custom-made broom (all cleverly created by Derrick Ivey, who turns broom-making into an art form), the women find out that the broom comes with a lengthy and complicated set of manufacturer’s instructions, plus a list of probing personal questions. Their failure to follow the directives in the instructions to the letter, and to answer all the questions in a timely fashion, incites the unseen telemarketer to bombard them with follow-up phone calls and fill their joint mailbox with pushy letters aimed at coercing them into compliance.
Watching these four modern, fiercely independent women battle Big Brother, in the form of a telemarketer from hell, is fun for a while, but not for the full 70 minutes or so that the show ran last Friday night (without intermission). Sometimes acting in concert, like a wacky Greek chorus, and sometimes stepping out on their own to demonstrate the annoying little character quirks that have keep these bachelor girls from meeting and marrying Mr. Right (or Ms. Right, in Dahlia’s case), Dana Marks, Jackie Marriott, Jane Allen Wilson, and Leigh Holmes all put plenty of personality — and lots of pizzazz — into characters, and Lance Waycaster adds an incisive comic cameo as an intrusive telemarketer run amok.
Kudos are also due to set designers Jessica Poland and Jeff Bergman, who created her own special island for each of the women; costume designer Dierdre Shipman, who gave each woman a distinctive personal style; and especially creator of the brooms Derrick Ivey, who created four special sweepers that the Wicked Witch of the West would be proud to ride. The show’s authors, directors, and creative team combined to create a fine playground and some striking props for the highly talented cast to employ in acting out their romantic frustrations. The problem with this greatly improved 2006 update of Brooms is that the play still builds toward a murky — and ultimately unsatisfactory — conclusion. More work is required to create an ending worthy of all the buildup in this clever contemporary comedy by Tamara Kissane and Cheryl Chamblee.
Both Hands Theatre Company presents Brooms: A Play About Saying Yes Thursday-Saturday, July 20-22, at 8:15 p.m. at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $10 Thursday and Sunday and $15 Friday and Saturday. 919/682-3343 or http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/162/.