Kansas Collection – Chapter Nine: The Storm
In the Kansas Collection, the Speakeasy Society has taken L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz novels and brought them to life in an immersive experience driven by each guest’s decisions. Taking place in Kansas after the whirlwind adventures of Dorothy Gale, control of a dying Oz is at stake. Due to time dilation, on the same day as the events of The Slippers, we have been invited to an intimate gathering by Queen Ozma herself.
Do you think I’m a bad man?
General Files (Zan Headley), who we last saw trying to keep order in Chapter Five: The Vow, gruffly greets me and a few other recruits before our meeting with Queen Ozma. He hurries us along, as it’s best not to keep the Queen waiting. A soldier holding his standing and duty above all else, Files is hardened by his past actions and haunted by his present dreams of the deceased Jinjur. Files starts to ramble and stops himself from telling us too much. Headley impresses in his portrayal of Files’ inner conflict and desire to do what’s “right.” When he finally brings us to see Ozma, we get a glimpse of the man who understands the ramifications of his actions, and is uncertain in his place by the Queen’s side. Files is shaken to his core at the blatant truth in front of him: He does not matter to Ozma. Ultimately, for a man at war with his duty and his conscience, whose side will he be on when the storm begins to rage?
There is reality, and there is survival.
Someone I have only really seen in passing, The Lion (Jessica Rosilyn) is always in the background, playing all sides during the war for Oz. Stealing the magic slippers from Glinda and Phil in Chapter Eight, she is happy to deliver them to Queen Ozma – for a reward. But the once playful and wisecracking cat has a rude awakening in store; Ozma does not take kindly to orders or demands. Expendable to the Queen and wielded as an instrument of destruction, Rosilyn’s Lion deftly transitions from strong and defiant to utterly helpless and pitiful. Will The Lion survive the war ahead and, if so, will she ever be the same?
We have all destroyed the world a little.
Queen Ozma (Genevieve Gearhart) has maintained her aura of arrogance and ruthlessness since the day I met her in a makeshift tent in Kansas, as I signed up to be a recruit in Scarecrow’s militia. A formidable ruler, now caressing her pregnant belly, she asks her guests what gifts we’ve brought her. We are pawns for her amusement, able to be cast aside whenever we’ve lost our purpose. Ozma’s motivation is clear – she wants to rule Oz and now Kansas – and it’s obvious that Gearhart relishes the opportunity to play such a malevolent character. She brags about the players she had a hand in killing – Scarecrow, Jinjur, Dorothy – and demonstrates just how little anyone else matters to her. But Gearhart can’t help but be persuasive and charming – that’s one of her many talents as an actress – it’s difficult to not get caught up in Ozma’s fervor. But with Ozma so nonchalant about ostracizing what few major followers she has, will there be anyone left at her side when the factions finally collide?
The penultimate chapter in the Kansas Collection, The Storm (with help from The Slippers) sets up the finale nicely with superb acting and intertwining story threads. We know who is left in this fight for Oz and where they stand – if they themselves know yet. Although The Storm did not appear to have much audience agency, there was a fun bit of interactivity between us and the characters – during which the actors improvised impeccably, especially Headley and Gearhart. For me, the narrative got slightly muddy during a lengthy admission about past events and intrigue (the chapters are far enough apart that details might have slipped from my memory). But the motivations and character conflicts are quite clear and the lines have been expertly drawn in the sand. Which side of Ozma will win out? What – or who – will be sacrificed to succeed? Once again, the Speakeasy Society leaves me anxiously awaiting the next chapter in their brilliantly crafted immersive masterpiece.