Dorothea Gale, the Witch-Killer, is missing. That’s what the messages from Oz said; she’s missing, presumed kidnapped, and she’s somewhere here, in Kansas, and it’s up to us to rescue her. Fans of The Speakeasy Society’s work thus far will know that, well, we’re not in Kansas, we’re here in Los Angeles, and this new mission can only mean that a new chapter of The Kansas Collection is about to begin. We’ve tracked Dorothy to a small home, nestled on a quiet street, and now we seem to have a choice: defeat her alleged captors and return her to Oz, or somehow help her remain in Kansas, finally free from Queen Ozma’s influence. Again, if you’ve seen The Speakeasy Society’s work so far, you’ll know that choices in this world are never as cut and dry as they seem, and the decisions we’ll make tonight in The Heart are no exception. It’s nights like this when choices feel like dangerous gifts—the kind that we’ll be unable to refuse.
The Heart is another short, but shockingly dense addition to The Kansas Collection. As in October 2018’s The Witch, the audience is again focused in on a small portion of the Ozians we’ve come to know. Instead of Glinda, Lavender, and Phil, however, we are reunited with Jack Pumpkinhead (Michael Bates) and Tik Tok (Nikhil Pai,) Dorothy’s (Colleen Pulawski) old companions who’ve enlisted us to help pinpoint her location in Kansas. She’s quickly found, as is her captor, the Tinman (James Cowan), and he won’t be parting with her easily.
What differentiates The Heart from its predecessors in Kansas Collection is the surprising way the narrative branches apart for audience members. While yes, guests have been treated to the occasional one-on-one interaction within chapters (sometimes at length in a long-form chapter like The Vow,) The Heart takes this concept and expands on in dramatically. The already-small group is split further at the outset of the performance, with the majority of attendees observing Dorothy and Tinman as he holds her life in his, and their hands, while a single attendee, trapped in an adjacent room, can only catch glimpses of this scene through a keyhole, experiencing the events alongside Tik as he recounts his own, heretofore, mostly unheard story.
It’s incredible, and by now unsurprising, that The Speakeasy Society is constantly able to evolve as storytellers through each of their performances. Where in The Witch, audiences stood on a windswept rooftop as actors menaced each other and morphed into otherworldly presences, The Heart is self-contained to the point that one half of the story takes place in a call-like space with a single actor and is no less powerful than a screaming gale.
That single actor, Nikhil Pai, as Tik, gives a perfect demonstration of the visceral impact that an intimate performance can provide. His monologue, delivered in quiet shaky bursts, tells a story of regret and loss—he so accurately conveys the hopelessness he feels that the crushing weight of his past choices feels palpable in the close air of the tiny room. In stark contrast, James Cowan as Tin Man is fueled by an incalculable rage, brought to life by what he feels is the injustice of Dorothy’s rejection. Tears streaming, his broken heart has given way to violence, and he’s thrown his audience in the center of his next terrible decision.
Though The Heart is somewhat of a departure from the storytelling style we may have come to expect from The Kansas Collection, it is, in so many ways, very much the same. This chapter, as all the chapters have been since The Key, over a year ago now, is about the burden of choice; here more than any other chapter before it, the story hinges upon audience choice. Whether those decisions are ultimately futile remain to be seen—The Speakeasy Society has once again succeeded in instilling an almost dour sense of agency within its audience. The Heart is a triumph—threaded throughout with the aching sense of regret that the wrong decision has been made. Ultimately, we will learn here, in this tiny corner of Kansas, that yes—choice is a gift—but so are consequences, and try as we might, neither can be refused.
All photos by Model05 Productions
The Heart runs through November 17th, 2018, with tickets available here. You can find more information about The Kansas Collection and upcoming Speakeasy Society shows on their website, on Instagram, or via Facebook.