The cover of the program for “Apple Season,” a new play that is currently at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch, features a picture of the fruit in the title. One half is bright red and unblemished; the other, brown and rotting.
And that’s “Apple Season,” in a nutshell.
The orchard in which most of the play’s action takes place (located on a farm in Oregon) is lushly green, and the apple trees look healthy and full of ripe fruit. (Jessica Parks is responsible for the convincingly rural scenic design). But this setting represents something else entirely — something dark and unsettling — for the play’s main character, Lissie (Kersti Bryan).
In E.M. Lewis’ play, which is at NJ Rep as part of a National New Play Network rolling premiere, Lissie returns to the farm after the death of its lone remaining occupant, her father. Her older brother, Roger (Richard Kent Green), comes back, too, but just for the funeral. That leaves Lissie alone in the orchard, to pick the apples — just because it’s apple season, and she feels someone should do it — before resuming her life as an elementary school teacher, elsewhere.
She’s not alone for long. Billy (Christopher M. Smith), who lives on the neighboring farm, stops by. He knew Lissie and Roger back when they were all teenagers, 20 years ago, and so they talk about the past, and catch up on the present. He also announces his interest in buying the farm, but Lissie isn’t sure she wants to sell, even though she has no intention of moving.
As they continue to talk, there are frequent flashbacks to the funeral home; to Roger traveling by train from his home in Wyoming to Oregon for the funeral; and to the characters’ teen years. The three actors play their characters in both the present and the past; Green does a particularly good job of making the young Roger seem like the same person as the adult Roger, and yet also distinctly different.
On one level, nothing much happens until the final scene (I won’t spoil it for you). On another level, though, much is revealed: about the ugly reality of Lissie and Roger’s family, which caused them to run away from home, all those years ago; about how that has affected them, as adults; and how Billy fits into it all (though I found his character to be a bit sketchy; we never feel we know him as deeply as we know the other two).
Still, there isn’t much plot here. The drama is in the revelations about the past that are slowly revealed. And much of what we learn about Lissie, we kind of suspect from the start.
As a result, I found “Apple Season” only moderately engaging. But give Lewis, Bryan and director Zoya Kachadurian credit, at least, for not just making the play’s central character realistically complex and full of unresolved contradictions stemming from her troubled past, but also vividly re-creating that past.
“Apple Season” will be at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Feb. 10; visit njrep.org.