A middle-aged woman bakes an apple pie for her adult son, and talks about her life, in “Apples in Winter,” a new one-woman, one-act play that the Centenary Stage Company is presenting at the Edith Kutz Theatre in Hackettstown through Nov. 18. This may not sound like a lot to build a play around, but there’s still plenty of drama in playwright Jennifer Fawcett’s script, and director Mikaela Kafka and actress Colleen Smith Wallnau help make it into an absorbing piece of theater.
We’re not told, at first, why Wallnau’s character, Miriam, is baking the pie alone — in a large, industrial kitchen, where the knife it attached, by a rope, to the table. And so I won’t tell you why here. But suffice it to say it’s a unusual situation whose details are revealed slowly, as Miriam talks, and the situation itself is part of the reason why Miriam’s story is so compelling.
“I’m just talking to talk,” she says, as she chats and chats, about her son, her former husband, her own mother, and pie-making.
“Butter, that’s the trick,” she says. Lard or shortening, won’t do.
She measures out all the ingredients carefully, and uses a special thermometer in case the oven’s gauge is off. “If you follow the rules, you will get a perfect pie,” she says. Well, maybe not perfect, but decent.
The pie-making, of course, is a metaphor for her life. As she talks about her past, she seems to have done everything right. If not perfectly, then at least reasonably well. But disaster still struck. And she has a hard time accepting that, as anyone would.
There is comfort in the rituals of pie-making. But after maybe 45 minutes of putting the pie together, she places it into the oven.
“And now we wait,” she says, ominously.
Now that she has nothing to do with her hands, and nothing to occupy her mind, her talk gets more serious, and builds to a sort of crescendo. The cold, hard truth, about everything, comes tumbling out. The character who we formerly saw as a placid woman, doing a simple task, is revealed for who she truly is.
I don’t mean there’s some kind of smoking gun, or that Miriam had purposely misrepresented herself, earlier. It’s more that we just get a glimpse, finally, of her emotional core. She ultimately seems like a different person; it’s a remarkable, and believable, transformation.
The Centenary Stage Company is presenting “Apples in Winter” at the Edith Kutz Theatre at the Lackland Performing Arts Center at Centenary University in Hackettstown. Remaining performances are Nov. 16-17 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. Visit centenarystageco.org.