Kansas Collection – Chapter Two: The Axe
In the Kansas Collection, the Speakeasy Society has taken L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz novels and brought them to life in an ARG (alternate-reality game) – 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. The Scarecrow King’s Militia and the Patchwork Resistance desperately search for Dorothy, but to what end? And whose side am I on?
A Familiar Face
Ordered by the Scarecrow King and Phoebe/Ozma to infiltrate the Patchwork Resistance, I checked in at the front desk and tried to maintain a low profile while taking mental notes of my surroundings. I investigated the tables lined with quilts, sewing machines, a poem, letters to Dorothy imploring her to contact the Scarecrow, and a jar of keys from failed recruits. I instinctively touched my own key, hidden in a pocket in my purse.
An enthusiastic voice boomed from behind me. It was the conductor from The Key, welcoming me back into the fold. He introduced himself as “Lyman,” which a quick Google search informed me was the “L.” of L. Frank Baum, author and puppet master of the Land of Oz novels. If anyone had answers, it was him. Lyman asked me questions about the papers scattered on the tables. I could tell he was hinting at something – perhaps vital information to help me along my path – but I couldn’t piece it together. Charmingly, he told me that he was only there to guide us, not give us the answers.
Before I could ask any further questions, the door burst open and a stern officer demanded our presence. Introducing herself as General Jinjur, she explained that this wasn’t the Patchwork Resistance. We had been tricked and apprehended by a new faction of Oz, the Revolt.
The Plot Thickens…
General Jinjur led us to a stairwell where she interrogated me and my fellow spies about the Patchwork Resistance, their leader, the whereabouts of Dorothy, and who we followed in Oz. The guests I was with explained they didn’t know anything (they were new to the Kansas Collection and had missed their assignment in The Key). General Jinjur turned her questions to me. I didn’t want to reveal that I was working with Ozma, and I honestly didn’t know the answers to her other questions, so I only told Jinjur a tidbit or two: that I didn’t know who I followed yet, but I had heard talk of the Wizard and his drinking habits. That seemed to appease her, so she confided in us the story of Oz after Dorothy left.
Believing Dorothy to be the defender of the people of Oz, the Revolt blames the Scarecrow for the downfall of the Emerald City. When he came to power, he banned all magic – good and bad – resulting in a fractured, starving and dying Oz. While the Patchwork Resistance works in the shadows, silently guiding Oz to their desired outcome, the Revolt works in the open, a blunt instrument demanding answers and change.
General Jinjur scribbled notes about us onto her clipboard and ushered us to a bright white tent where a man sat on a bench, chains around his wrists, tears streaming down his cheeks, and blood caked on his face. Behind him stood a dirt-stained woman threatening the man with an axe, the leader of the Revolt – Glinda.
You Can’t Play All Sides
Glinda ordered us to sit (me on the bench next to the abused man) and asked us what we knew. Since we didn’t give up any information, she explained how she tried to be a good witch, how it backfired when the Scarecrow took magic away, and how the Revolt plans on acting like a bomb to instigate change in Oz. They want to find Dorothy to help overthrow the Scarecrow. Glinda paced, punctuating her anger with a swing of the axe she carried. The man beside me looked at us with begging, bloodshot, tear-lined eyes. More than once I thought about trying to get him out of the restrictive chains. What would have happened if I had made that choice?
A woman dressed in a black suit came into the tent, playing with a tray of torture devices across the tent. Glinda shouted at the woman to take one of my fellow guests and get out of the tent, General Jinjur close behind. The crying man whispered to me that his mother was a quilter. I’m sure it was supposed to signify something, but I didn’t know what. I could only watch with pity as Glinda cut him off and ordered the man to tell us his story.
Once known as Nick Chopper, the man had been in love. When the Witch of the East stole his love away from him, he went to the forest. In a particularly brutal tale, his limbs turned into branches before he hacked them off with his axe. Before he could end it all, though, he replaced himself and turned into the Tin Man. Nick was gone. The Tin Man, pledging himself to Dorothy, found love again – a love that she did not reciprocate. Lost in his grief-filled history, the Tin Man broke down completely, tears streaming, nose running.
Glinda demanded we tell her where Dorothy is hidden. Our confused responses were cut short when the Tin Man threw down his chains and stood up. He angrily confronted Glinda, saying he had cooperated with her and that her tactics weren’t working. I was shocked to find out the Tin Man was working with Glinda the whole time, curious to know why he agreed to go along with the charade. In the midst of their argument, the woman in the black suit returned to escort us back to the lobby, but not before giving us some advice. Once called “cowardly,” she (the Lion!) told us the world was no longer black and white, but gray. She suggested we only look out for ourselves, and that following anyone else would lead us astray.
A deeply emotional chapter, The Axe broke my heart with its reimagining of the Tin Man and his backstory. Played by a phenomenal James Michael Cowan, the Tin Man was raw and vulnerable with a tortured past. Natalie Fryman, as a very different version of Glinda than what we’re used to, was a strong and commanding presence, and demanded our participation. Highlighted by the appearances of other characters from the Land of Oz books, The Axe insisted I take a look inward and make my choices carefully. This version of Oz is bleak and gritty, the alliances unsteady, and betrayal inevitable. The story runs deeper than I can yet understand. Walking out of The Axe, I had more questions than answers, in a good way. Where do I fit into the story? Where does my allegiance lie? Who can I trust? I’m not sure yet, but I intend to continue on this journey to find out.