Out of the Apple Orchard
By Ellen W. Kaplan
Based on a book by Yvonne David
Directed by Kenny Howard
Starring Jeremy Kleckner, Karen Ann, Sara Jones, and Ron Miles
Presented by Eden Grove
At the Orlando Repertory Theatre
Before there was a Borscht Belt, there was a small community of Jewish refugees up in the Catskills. The air was better than in the Lower East Side, but the opportunities were fewer. The Bieman family moved up there, hoping the clean air would cure father’s (Ron Miles) pneumonia as no one had yet invented antibiotics. With daddy out of action, the job of bringing home the kosher bacon fell to young Adam (Kleckner). He was in grade school, but the main skills taught there were reciting patriotic speeches and a bit of grammar. An orchard full of ripe apples offered a solution, but when farmer Friedland (Tommy Wooten) catches Adam, there’s a pile of invective that challenges the stately mountains gracing the upstage mountain range. As Adam wrestles with right and starvation and daddy coughs up internal organs, Mama (Jones) and Sarah (Maggie Connor) make apocalyptic statements and doctor Maxwell (Doug Bowser) flies about on his white horse (Bayley Steinwher, Josh Lefkowtitz, and Coletyn P. Hentz).
There’s a solid message here; Adam faces the horrible choice of Starvation vs. Sin. He’s properly torn, and that internal debate is the heart of the story. Decorating it is the astonishing set by Bonny Sprung: buildings rotate, a school house drops from the fly, and a mystical red bird (articulated by Mr. Hentz and voiced by Jose Navarro’s violin) follows Adam as he anguishes. Jessica Hoehn is the amazingly calm school teacher and Miles’ Papa can really cough up a lung. Wooton seems overly angry at the loss of nine apples, but we then see an amazing toy turkey attack and Adam’s sinning isn’t bad enough to damn him to hell. Where this show stumbles is in the dialog department; nothing on stage seems like natural speech. Obvious facts are announced, dreadful conclusions are final, and the idea that lurks in my head is we are hearing a transcript of the original children’s book. While acted by a great cast on a beautiful set, the words all feel stilted and the action seems arbitrary and none of the actors really have much free will. The cast was talking TO each other, and not with them. My party had four actual children in it tonight, they were transfixed so my criticism may arise from not being the target audience here. This is a promising piece, but there’s still some rough edges here that will hopefully buff off as this project continues in development.
For more information on The Apple Tree Series, please visit http://www.appletreeseries.com