New Jersey Repertory Company starts its 21st season
The New Jersey Repertory Company starts its 21st season of artistic excellence with Apple Season, a new play by E.M. Lewis, as its 133rd production. This play is an exploration of the strength of long-repressed memories even over a span of decades, and how the past can continue to taint the present and threaten to mold the future. It is a play of great emotional power. It is a production that needs to be seen.
It’s autumn in rural Oregon. The patriarch of a farming family has died, and his two children return to attend his funeral after a twenty year absence. Lissie Fogerty (Kersti Bryan) is picking apples from the family orchard, almost by rote, following the funeral. Neighbor and childhood friend Will (Christopher M. Smith) comes by to offer condolences. He offers to buy the land from her, intending to continue farming it. The offer and the conversation that follows trigger memories of when Lissie and her older brother Roger (Richard Kent Green) fled the family farm, disappearing for two decades.
Director Zoya Kachadurian guides her actors to performances so naturalistic that you forget you’re watching actors on a stage. Miss Bryan, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Green brilliantly pull off playing their characters’ current selves as well as the same characters 20 years previously. Flashback scenes weave seamlessly with current action, teasing out the long-buried secrets of the Fogerty family. The play raises the question of whether the siblings will ever be able to escape their haunted past. Its unsettling ending leaves that question unanswered.
As usual with NJ Rep productions, the small stage is transformed through the imaginative work of the design team. Jessica Parks once again works magic with her scenic design, in collaboration with Jill Nagel’s lighting and Merek Royce Press’ sound design. The lived-in costumes of Patricia E. Doherty are timeless, as fitting for the characters of the present as they are for the characters of two decades past
The New Jersey Repertory Company has been honored this year by the American Theatre Wing, overseers of the Tony and Obie awards, with a National Theatre Company Grant. In giving their reasons for the grant, the Wing cited NJ Rep for “developing and producing new plays to make a lasting contribution to the American stage, enriching the cultural life of their community and acting as a catalyst for redevelopment, educating and inspiring young people in theater arts and playwriting, nurturing the work of writers from diverse backgrounds and building diverse audiences, and building a regional and national destination for the performing arts.” Those of us who have been fortunate enough to have seen works produced by NJ Rep heartily concur with their opinion.
NJ Rep is part of the National New Play Network, which does “rolling world premieres” of new plays in different cities. They have been honored to be the first of four theatres which will be premiering Apple Season, and we are honored by this production. Theatregoers looking for a gripping memory play with three-dimensional characters brought to life by talented actors and a skilled director will find it in Apple Season. I strongly encourage you to see it.