A Simple Recipe with Complex Flavors

by China Young

Photo courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Roxanne Harley as Miriam. Photo courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

“This is the Story of a mother’s deepest love and most grievous pain” is printed against the striking image of a knife embedded into a bright red apple on the program cover for Something Something Theatre’s co-production with Tucson Labyrinth Project, Apples in Winter by Jennifer Fawcett. There is something sinister and foreboding, yet warmly familiar about the image, giving us a strong sense of the complexity of the material we are about to witness. Though this one-woman show, is just over an hour, it takes us into deep contemplation of a mother who has been brought to an unfamiliar kitchen to cook an apple pie for her son. We soon learn that this this apple pie, made by his mother, is the requested last meal of a man on death row who was convicted of murder. The image was not credited in the program, but I think it is a simple yet powerful summation of the intricacies this production offers.

Echoing the power of simplicity is the stark set design by Scott Berg. With a clinical color palette of greys and whites, we get the cold, industrial essence of a penitentiary kitchen. The most impressive feature is an actual working oven that is imbedded in a basic wooden frame box. The use of this practical requirement by the playwright, and execution by director Barclay Goldsmith, was cleverly orchestrated. While Miriam, played by Roxanne Harley, is constructing the pie, she tells us the history of her pie-making rituals and their relationship to her son.  But it’s not until she finally places the pie in the oven that she unveils the truth of what it has been like to be the mother of a convicted murderer. No longer able to be distracted by the use of her hands, she finds herself a prisoner of time – the time it takes to bake the pie, and the direct link that has to the time left in her son’s life. She talks about regular visits to the prison, hate mail, and so many other dark details of her experience, all as we are surrounded by the delightful aroma of the apple pie baking. It’s an interesting device that toys with our senses, keeping us tuned in sharper than the knife chained to the table.

There are so many beautiful and heart wrenching places this show takes us. Harley handles the material masterfully, though not without imperfection. She tells a story of a human experience, with a vulnerability that evokes empathy and understanding for a person with a different experience than your own…perhaps. It’s not easy to identify with the mother of a murderer, but nearly effortless to identify with a mother, or a lover of pie. I did think there were different choices that could have been made, maybe different beat shifts that could have been explored, and a deeper investigation of the full range of expression from the actor, both vocally and emotionally. Regardless, Harley gives a solid performance.

Both Something Something and The Labyrinth Project value theatre that evokes conversation, and Apples in Winter is certainly no exception. There was a post-show discussion that at least half the nearly full house stayed for. The conversation was an excellent encapsulation of the relevance of this production. Many of their responses and comments varied from my own and continue to churn my thoughts. If you have the opportunity to sit in on a post-show discussion, I highly recommend it. 

The most powerful piece of the conversation for me was learning that playwright Jennifer Fawcett drew from the book “A Mother’s Reckoning” by Sue Klebold, as her primary source material. Klebold was the mother of one of the Columbine shooters. In the 20 years since, mass shootings have become a devastatingly daily event, with parents usually being the first to be blamed for their child’s behavior. I do wish this information was included in the program, but even without that knowledge, Apples in Winter provides us the reminder that we are all human and encourages us to consider how many parents have gone through the same cycle of grief and shame that we witness with Miram. It was a rich experience and I encourage everyone to catch this one if they can.

Apples in Winter plays at The Community Players Theatre through December 15. Tickets are $5-$25. You can find more information and purchase tickets at https://www.somethingsomethingtheatre.com/.