Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Apple: Fatal Illness Rescues Marriage
This three-character, 80-minute (plus intermission) play tells of Lynn and Andy, a childless married couple in their mid forties whose 16-year marriage has grown untenable, and Samantha, a young attractive medical student who improbably enters their lives.
Lynn, a real estate agent, is a hard driving bitch. Although Andy still desires her, Lynn has turned off to her husband, rebuffing all of his efforts at intimacy. Now, after ten years, Andy has just lost his government job as a result of "downsizing." It had been his expectation to drift through life in a secure job earning a salary sufficient to his needs. When he finds it unlikely that he can find a job at either his old salary or comfort level, Andy falls into a pattern of spending much of his day sitting on a bench in a local park. Neither does he perform any household chores. The bitter Lynn lets Andy know that she will no longer remain with him.
So far, so good. The next scene could be intended as magic realism, or described, more mundanely, as a man's fantasy. As he sits on his park bench, Andy is approached by Samantha, a beautiful, centered and soulful young student, who has been watching him from her apartment window. She wants to copulate with him on a continuing basis without any emotional attachment or obligation. In sharp contrast to Lynn, Samantha treats him as a prime object of passionate desire. Perhaps author Thiessen could tell us older guys just where we might find this magical bench.
Now the coincidences begin to pile up. Samantha is thinking of selling her condo apartment, and guess who shows up at her door covering for another agent. Correct! In an intimate conversation upon their first meeting, Samantha explains to Lynn that her fear of attachments derives from her not telling her mother that she loved her before the latter's death. Perhaps, if it were her father's death that had so affected, we might infer that this is the reason that she selected Andy to be her lover.
In short order, Lynn learns that she has breast cancer. Now she wants Andy to stay and "take care of me." And the medical consultant assigned to Lynn by her doctor turns out to be a hospital resident oncologist, Samantha!
As a result of the soon to metastasize cancer, Lynn sheds her bitchy attitude. She and Andy rediscover the love that they shared when they first met. After Lynn's death, hope is held out that Samantha and Andy will establish a loving relationship.
There are some very moving and well written scenes. I was particularly moved by the practical and realistic manner in which Lynn and Andy face her imminent demise. Although I know that it is the manner in which most well adjusted individuals proceed, it is edifying and inspiring to have it as cogently expressed as it is here.
On the other hand, why do playwrights think that it is good for a man to tell his dying wife that he has cheated on her, even after he knew that she was dying? Of course, in Apple, there is a positive, cleansing result to this act.. In real life, such a selfish, self-serving admission would be far more likely to bring great pain.
Under SuzAnne Barabas' astute direction, the performances are always compelling. Carol Todd as Lynn and Michael Irvin Pollard as Andy fully flesh out their characters and relationship so that we are able to simultaneously feel sympathy and estrangement toward each. Carol Todd never seeks the audience's sympathy by softening Thiessen's Lynn. It is Andy's passive behavior (which includes passive hostility) that makes us feel for her plight at the start. Later on, Todd makes Lynn's recapture of her once loving self engaging and believable. Michael Irvin Pollard's Andy embodies the quiet and lazy, ineffectual nebbish whose passivity is insufferable. It is Lynn's cold and bitchy behavior that creates sympathy for Andy.
Deborah Baum exudes a heady mixture of sweetness, sensuality and intelligence as Samantha. Samantha is, as written, too good to be true, yet she is convincingly so in Baum's beautifully crafted performance. There is a stillness, quietude and precision in her performance which is transcendent.
Jessica Parks' three level unit set for Apple's multiple settings is attractive and very playable. Her work is nicely enhanced by the lighting of Jill Nagle.
When the lights come up on the first scene, Andy says, "I bite into her breasts." To which Lynn replies, with annoyance, "Be careful. They're not apples." I assume that Vern Thiessen believes that they are, hence the title of his play.
Apple continues performances (Evenings: Thursday Saturday 8 p.m.; Matinees: Saturday 3 p.m./Sunday 2 p.m.) through November 23, 2008 at the New Jersey Repertory Company at the Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166 / online: www.njrep.org.
Apple by Vern Thiessen; directed by SuzAnne Barabas