Theatre Nova actors shine in an otherwise thin "Apple Season"
E.M. Lewis’ Apple Season is a memory play. Memories haunt and suffocate three people who have had trouble moving on.
Three excellent actors bring quiet authority to their performances in Theatre Nova’s Michigan premiere of Lewis’ play under the direction of David Wolber. While Lewis’ play strains to be poetic, seems thin, and is too much like other family trouble dramas, but Wolber and his cast bring an honest realism to the story.
Apple Season is a story about dark family secrets, long-repressed emotions, and lost opportunities. Lissie has come back to her Oregon family home to bury her father and decide what to do with the family apple orchard. She is 36 years old, a fourth-grade teacher, and hasn’t been home since running away with her brother to an aunt’s house as a teenager.
The day after the funeral, Lissie is trying to harvest the apple crop and keep busy when a neighbor comes over to discuss possibly buying the orchard and a few other troubling things. Neighbor Billy and Lissie haven’t seen each other since high school. Billy is a couple of years older and her brother Roger’s only friend. Billy was once a star on the high school basketball team and has had a never-ending crush on Lissie. He still lives and works on his parent's farm. He’s a strong, kind man but still at loose ends.
More troubled is Lissie’s brother Roger. He came in for his father’s funeral (just to be sure he was dead) and left immediately. For the past 20 years, he’s been a drifter, traveling through the West, picking up jobs working with horses, and trying to forget.
The play centers on the conversation between Lissie and Billy but flashes back to sweet and bitter memories of their childhood years. The play also breaks for scenes of Roger on a freight train rattling through the night, recalling his restless life and the events that destroyed any chance of a more settled life.
Alysia Kolascz plays Lissie as a tough woman. She has the right feel for the character’s constant apprehension and distrust of friendship, let alone the possibility of love. In the memory scenes she reverts to the teenager she used to be, all nerves and a bit of bravado, until disturbing events throw her into personal chaos. Kolascz never loses that hard edge that defines what Lissie has become.
Jeremy Kucharek is wonderfully low-key, shy, and charming as Billy. His expressions when he sees Lissie make it clear that he still has feelings for her. Kucharek gives Billy the strength, compassion, and quiet voice that suggests just how much has been lost.
Matthew Swift is appropriately both tough and laconic as Roger. He’s a cowboy with a troubled past. Swift uses the right gruff voice and hesitant manner. His posture and his slow, deliberative speech pattern effectively capture Roger’s personality. He has to deliver monologues to an unseen fellow drifter and he makes it work.
The play is set in the apple grove. Monica Spencer’s set works well on the small Nova stage, with a variety of apples on the trees and ground, an accurate stone toolshed, and a flat showing rows of yet to be picked trees. Daniel C. Walker handles the important and well-executed lighting effects, from Roger’s moody evening light on the train to the soft, dim fades into memory to a dramatic flash.
Lewis play is an hour-long, one-act play. It has a sensitive restraint but seems to fall flat and is too reminiscent of similar plays. It needs a little more time and content to suggest why Billy is so haunted by Lissie and to better understand the bond that connects the more grounded Lissie with her drifter brother. It’s there but it needs more time.
Given that, Wolber and his actors make good theater in the staging and performances.
Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently the managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.
"Apple Season" continues through Feb. 23 at 8 pm on Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 pm on Sundays at Theatre Nova, 410 W. Huron St., Ann Arbor. For tickets, call 734-635-8450 or go to theatrenova.org.