I've been thinking a lot about expectations lately. That is, the perception of a show prior to viewing as contrasted with after viewing. Theater is a transient thing: it happens and then it's gone. Only those who witness the action know what happened. In other words, it is not unlike a crime.
My plan was simple: Step one: collect as much eye-witness testimony as possible; step two: completely reconstruct the show based on said testimony; step three: go to the show and contrast the testimony against the reality of what I see for myself.
I immediately identified Ben San Del Presents' Apple Picking as the leading suspect. The play was already about a murder and (judging from the ticket sales) had plenty of eyewitnesses. So I grabbed my fedora and trench coat and went to work. And for those of you who haven't yet seen the show, be advised: SPOILERS lie ahead. Of course, that assumes my expectations of the show are accurate and clairvoyant.
Before I could solve the mystery and reveal the guilty party, I needed first to know who got murdered. I needed to know what happened. In other words: who, what, when, where, how. (We'll get to why in a second. For now, I wanted just the facts.) And right away, I got some contradictory testimony.
First I went to the Minnesota Fringe website and read the show description: “Two couples go apple picking. It escalates from there. A darkly comic, psychedelic crime thriller....” It's hard to glean much from this. But the admission a crime did occur kept me going. I read through all the reviews. Unfortunately all witnesses seemed to write was whether or not they liked the show with no mention of murder. Clearly, people were afraid to talk.
I needed to hit the streets. Staked out in front of the Ritz Theater, I waited for theater goers to pour out from the front doors after the show. A wind-blown playbill flew up against my leg. It was for Apple Picking. On it was listed--in no uncertain terms--who was at the scene of the crime. Four characters in all: Candy, Johnny, Robert, and Red. There was also some mention of trees, but I dismissed this out of hand as an unnecessary inclusion of timber in the set design to appease arborist groups. The set is not a character. (I'll avoid quoting Antonin Artaud at this time.)
Suddenly the front doors of the Ritz erupted as the public spewed forth. I began interviewing as many as I could before they raced off to other shows. It happened all at once like a flood of information. It was as illuminating as it was confusing; for every question answered, another two were raised. And many of the testimonies were contradictory.
From what I gathered, the main character, Candy was a heroin addict and Johnny was her dealer (possibly lover). The Star Tribune confirmed, “They [Candy and Johnny] had a criminal past.” He was killing her. Her only chance of escape was to kill him first. Red was a rabbit- or at least dressed like one, which lead me to conclude the whole play took place at a carnival or county fair. The rabbit would presumably have hidden among the stuffed animal prizes, waiting for the moment to pounce. That being the case, Apple Picking most likely referred to apple bobbing, not picking. Now we were getting somewhere!
Meanwhile, an FBI agent named Robert was stalking Johnny, the drug lord. He had a beard. No, he was clean shaven. He was between 5'5” and 7 feet tall; he was blonde; some claimed he was bald. Of all the characters, he was the hardest to pin down. Some witnesses testified he was an undercover cop, and others swore he was a double agent working for Johnny. But I have a different theory: It hit me when one eyewitness let slip Candy was the real drug lord (or at least her father was). Johnny was the red jarring. Robert was not stalking Johnny but Candy!
And that's about all I got. Why? Because people wouldn't shut up about the trees. What I had assumed were mere set decorations turned out to be major players. Furthermore, in the play a tree gets murdered. Or was it the tree that did the murdering? The trees talk literally; they talk figuratively; they were not trees at all but people disguised as trees. Bingo! Just like the bunny, these were carnies dressed as trees, hoping to take down Candy, notorious king pin. Everyone was trying to kill Candy.
The next day I went to the show to bear witness for myself. I was expecting a comical murder mystery or more precisely a big-top, apple bobbing spy thriller in the typical fashion but from the point of view of the carnies. But I was not seeing the forest for the trees. The setting was not a carnival at all but an apple orchard! It said so right in the show description. How had I missed that?
The truth is I had let hearsay eclipse anything the show's producer was trying to tell me. This happened to my mother once who overlooked the show description for The Book of Mormon. What she heard about the show help create expectations that were filtered through another person's experience. This misconception can often lead to disappointment. Not only are one's expectations high, but one's concept of the show will be challenged. And by “one,” I mean you.
But this can also be a boon. After all, how often are your preconceived notions better than the fully-realized production? Not only that but people rarely remember their misconceptions once they have the facts presented before them in real time. The new file overwrites the old file. You walk out of the theater knowing exactly what happened....until you talk to me. Then things start to fragment. Hours later, all you can remember is how you felt.
Some might argue it's better to go to a show knowing nothing. But why then would you go to the show? Marketing and company reputation can go a long way. Word of mouth, on the other hand, is how shows really catch fire. A recommendation is almost a performance in itself – someone you trust recreating their excitement for a show they want you to also experience. They paraphrase their favorite lines, jumble the plot, and in this case, frame the wrong person for the murder.
Theater is an ephemeral thing. It happens in a spate of reassurances, each a little different from the last, before vanishing forever. Unless you have access to a script, there's no way to tell what really happened. By the way: I'm taking back what I said about the spoilers. Turns out, I was so off base, I've given nothing away about the show. SPOILER ALERT RESCINDED! Either way, I'm telling you it's a great show. It's exactly what you imagine. You'll love it! But especially if you experience theater like I do.