For most bakers, a lot of love goes into their work. Now imagine how much emotion would go into preparing someone's final meal and that gives you a hint of what to expect from "Apples in Winter," playing at Bakersfield Community Theatre.
The one-woman show stars Julie Gaines as Miriam, whose son was convicted of two brutal murders 22 years before. His time now up on death row, he is granted a last meal and requests his mother's apple pie.
"She is a mother who fiercely loves and supports her child, even in impossible circumstances," director Jan Hefner wrote of the character in an email. "While she is making the pie, she recounts stories about her family and the events leading to the present."
This is the first one-woman show for Gaines, who describes it as a "whole new experience."
Gaines wrote in an email, "Yes, with this director, it has been an outstanding collaboration; I come at the character from one point of view and she helps me open myself up to other possible options."
Hefner agreed, saying she was excited about the rare opportunity "to support just one actor's work while creating a presentation that would keep the audience fully engaged."
"Julie and I are great friends with a lot of trust between us, and we shared the common goal to tell Miriam's story in the most effective and impactful way possible," Hefner said.
In addition to the intense character work, Gaines has also been toiling away at the actual pie-making process. Despite a junior high home-economics project, Gaines said she wasn't much of a pie maker going in — "I was more the cookie/cake mom" — but that she's stepped up her baking game.
She said, "I think my skills are now much more defined — I can even do a woven-top crust! I'd give myself an 8 out of 10 — things aren't always a perfect as I'd like as I'm talking at the same time."
(Audiences can judge for themselves: The concession stand will sell slices of pie that Gaines made during rehearsals.)
Although the premise is heavier material, between the pie-making and family recollections, there are moments of levity.
"This is not just a drama — I mean you read what it's about and you think, ‘Oh, no — that is going to be too much,'" Gaines said. "But, Miriam is a complex woman who has so many layers to her. She is worth getting to know."
Hefner said, like Miriam, we do not always choose what shapes our lives and that we should strive to be kinder toward other people.
"I would like people to take away that life does not give us easy answers, and we should not be judging people without knowing what they've endured."
The production is the latest in BCT’s Studio Shows series, featuring new or lesser-known plays staged for a one-weekend-only engagement between main stage productions. Previous shows, which provided an intimate and different play-going experience, include "Stop Kiss" and "The Revolutionists." Two more are planned for next year: "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" (Jan. 10-12) and "Love Letters" (Feb. 28-March 1).