BWW Review: APPLE IN WINTER at Urbanite Theatre
When you enter Urbanite Theatre for any production, you are immediately taken by the set design. In an intimate black box setting that allows for a small but decent size audience, you wouldn't think there would be much space left for sets, props and other accoutrement that underline and energize the storyline. Somehow Urbanite manages to impress every time. Whether it is a dingy run-down hotel room, a dark, musty coal mine, a hip office space or in this case, a real working kitchen, you know you are in the presence of perfected theater and professionals who take their productions seriously. Chad Eric Bergman, you are a genius.
Apples in Winter is Jennifer Fawcett's gripping one-woman play, allowing a glimpse into the life of a loving mother in anguish over a crime her son has committed. We come to know her and her family through a soliloquy of remembrances expressed so meticulously that we can see them in our own minds and partake on this life journey with her. It is with that meticulous nature that she prepares a kitchen for a very special pie she will be making for her son; for his last meal.
Miriam enters an unfamiliar industrial kitchen with hesitance. The prison has given her one-hour to bake a pie for her son's last meal before his execution. Allowing her to bring only her own apron and oven mitts, she searches the galley for ingredients and utensils. She painstaking arranges the spices in her preferred order and sets out three perfect apples, however, one has a small flaw and it is tossed out. It will not do, not for this pie.
Robert was a good little boy. He used to sing to himself and loved watching Miriam bake pumpkin pies in the fall, blueberry pies in the summer and apple pies the winter, from the big apple tree she nurtured from a wilting stalk. Miriam was the loving and supportive mother to Robert that she wished she had in her own mother. She remembers as a child being in a frantic search for her mother, after being separated at a crowded parade, and finding her drinking in a bar. She nonchalantly stated she simply forgot her little girl was with her. Her grandmother took little interest in her as well.
One disappointment after another, Miriam chose to think only the good about everyone and everything. Perhaps that made her life more bearable. She instead focused on what she could control. And that was baking pies that could make the world a better place. A sweet slice of life. A family tradition. A warm inside glow of love. She built her memories of good times around the bountiful fruits harvested at each season. She focused on the times shared with now deceased husband Larry, and the joyful times when Robert was young and played with his constant companion, cousin Melanie.
Things have changed in 22 years. How did her sweet little boy stray so far? At first it was little things; taking change from her purse, then painkillers, hanging with the wrong crowd, at odds with his father. But that's what boys go through, isn't it? He'd come and go as he got older, asking for money, and she would give it if she had it. He always came home for pie. He would take a bite, close his eyes, savor the warm sweetness of the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and smile, taking in the buttery, flakey crust. And not just any crust. A lattice design top crust. So much comfort. So much love.
As Miriam expresses her sweet memories we can see her disheartened pallor acknowledging her unfamiliar surroundings; a cold industrial prison kitchen, no where to sit while the pie bakes, and only the occasional echoes of clanging steel or faint announcements within the cold prison walls. Yet it is here a mother comes to bake with all the love and warmth she can muster for her son's final meal. As she prepares the spices, cuts the butter, rolls the dough, peels and slices the apples, she speaks to us from a broken heart of bittersweet memories.
As the play progresses her sweet memories turn to angst. How could her little boy become a man who would commit such a heinous crime? The weapon? Her favorite kitchen knife. Taking on some of the blame, she questions herself. Could she have been a better mother? What went wrong? And when? Perhaps if they were a family of better means this would not have happened. But Robert was still given a loving home surrounded by family. Her mild disposition gives way to her torment and anger arises within her. She displays her agony as her voice elevates, her mild mannerisms become chopped and her facial expressions show rage yet confusion.
Actress and playwright Roxanne Fay as Miriam is exquisite. She embodies a tortured mother who anguishes with her son's crime as well as her own guilt, with realism and a fervent focus on this tormented character. It's a lot of lines to remember and a heart wrenching storyline to act out. I don't' know how an actor pulls from the depth of their own soul to deliver impeccable performances with the breadth and depth Miss Fay exudes. And not to mention she is actually making a pie from scratch while portraying her character. The working kitchen provides an opportunity for the pie to bake while she tells her story and the wafting smell of a home made apple pie fills the theater, making this encounter all the more real. Director Kirstin Franklin gave the play a well-paced rhythm and opened the door for Miss Fay to deeply plunge into character development. Lighting by Jo Averill-Snell artfully mirrored the color of the porthole windows across the perimeter of the kitchen to match that of Miriam's shifting moods. A nice touch at the end of the story is that the actual pie baked in the play is for sale in the lobby.
Apples in Winter brings to light the victim's oppressor and the position in which it puts their family and friends. At one point in their life the murderer, rapist and drug lord were children. Perhaps they had a hard life that forced them to grow into the wicked adults they became. Perhaps they were raised in a close-knit family with all the conveniences of life. So why did they take a wrong turn? It's easy to turn our backs on an evildoer. We don't think about their past lives, their families and the demons that control them. If we did, perhaps it would lessen the seriousness of their crimes and even belittle their victims. This drama hit home a little too hard for me. I had a dear aunt who was a gentle soul, who was raped and murdered by the 14-year-old neighborhood boy who used to mow her lawn. I lost my religion over that for many years. How can God let this happen? Our family was and continues to be devastated over this senseless crime at the hands of a teenager on drugs. I never once thought about the boy, now a grown man, still serving time. It never occurred to me to think about or even pray for his family. I didn't care how his crime affected them, their friends, and their neighbors. Why should I? This play made me come to grips with the fact that I am still after all of these years holding a grudge against him. And with God. I will never forget or forgive this man for taking my aunt from us. I am trying not to ask God why anymore. They say there's a sweet taste of peace that embraces you when you surrender to forgiveness. I have not tasted that pie yet.
Apples in Winter runs through February 17, 2019. For more information about Urbanite Theatre visit www.urbanitetheatre.com