Encore Michigan

Ixion’s ‘Apples in Winter’ bakes up a heart-wrenching pie

Review October 29, 2019 Bridgette Redman

LANSING, Mich.–There are few jobs more terrifying than that of parent. If you don’t believe that, try attending Apples in Winter at Ixion and see if your opinion wavers.

This one-woman show by Jennifer Fawcett is given a tour-de-force interpretation by Paige Tufford and is directed by Jeff Croff.

The premise sets you up for a heart-wrenching hour: A mother, Miriam, is baking an apple pie for her adult son, just as she as done every year since he was five. Only now she is baking it for him because he requested it as his last meal on Death Row and it is hours before his execution.

That said, the show starts out gently. Miriam spends a lot of time telling us how to make a pie and Tufford does a beautiful job of knowing when to sit with the silence, when to be relaxed. The content is emotional enough, nothing here needs to be forced and Tufford has a beautiful sense for this, letting her performance be understated and to grow to the climax.

There’s never a moment of boredom and while the start is gentle and quiet, it isn’t slow. Time is an important theme in this show and Tufford and Croff manage the pacing well so that it mirrors what Miriam is trying to tell us about time on death row.

Tufford so successfully immerses herself into the role that it never feels like a monologue. This is a woman in a kitchen, talking as naturally as if she were at home, except all the audience has been invited in. And we are very much the people she is talking to. She wants to connect with anyone who has ever questioned what it is like to be the mother of a “monster.” She wants to simultaneously convince us that he is not a monster and, more importantly, that she only ever did what was natural.

Fawcett doesn’t give the audience any easy answers or easy outs. They can’t walk away saying, “Obviously person X is to blame…”, whether that person is the mother, the father, the victims, society, or only the killer himself.

By letting her tell her story simply and in a straight-forward manner, Tufford draws us into this woman’s pain and isolation. This could be any woman. We know and recognize her. She isn’t a stranger.

The audience joins Miriam on a very real search for what went wrong. Even as she tells the audience that everything she did was “natural,” there is a layer of questioning and doubt. She offers up her defense for loving a person that others have definitively judged.

Fawcett also leads us to question how we treat the families of criminals, people who are innocent of the crime, but whose lives are forever altered. Miriam talks about how those she loved shunned her and she’s spent the past 22 years mostly alone and is now on the verge of losing the one person she has lived for.

Fawcett explores the process of searching, blaming, excusing, explaining, denying, and anger, all while having her character solely focused on and talking about the making of an apple pie. The show explores how a person survives the unimaginable, what they do to cope, to live with themselves not just in the moment of crisis, but for decades afterward.

Croff keeps the set simple, evoking the barrenness of a prison kitchen. Tufford is able to fill the space that Croff builds around her, allowing for an intense focus and quietness. There are projections and music at the beginning that help launch the show and the home videos of a young boy eating pie draws the audience in and sets them up for heartbreak.

Less effective is the projected video and bit of music at the end. Throughout the show, the audience practically holds its breath and at the end, the audience is glued to its seat, almost afraid to refill their lungs. There is a need to be with that quietness for a few moments before the curtain call and the music and slide feels jarring, something that breaks the mood rather than adds to it.

Fawcett’s script is very focused on motherhood—Miriam even talking about her connection to women of the past—but this is not a show just for women or just for mothers anymore than a show featuring men is meant only for an audience of men. The story speaks to more people than that. It speaks to mothers, yes, but it also speaks to fathers. It speaks to anyone who has had a loved one do something terrible. It speaks to anyone who has had a loved one act in a way that disappointed them. It speaks to anyone who has ever thrown stones, mental or otherwise, at the families of “monsters.”

And most compelling and relevant for our times, it speaks to those who try to strip away the humanity of anyone who does something reprehensible. It challenges our language and our way of thinking and reminds us that everyone, even those we want to label as the “worst” of us, are still flawed human beings who have people who love them.