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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review

It's hard when you don't have to work. It's hard watching the walls, it's hard watching the dishes get dirty, it's hard watching the vacuum cleaner when it's turned on, it's hard watching the bills arrive, praying they'll pay themselves, it's so fucking hard. . . — Evelyn
I had an interview today (pause) as a matter of fact. — Andy

Michael Irvin Pollard and Deborah Baum in Apple
(Photo: SuzAnne Barabas)
Andy (Michael Irvin Pollard) is 40-something, married and suddenly told after ten years employment that he no longer has his government job because of downsizing. Evelyn (Carol Todd), his attractive wife is a successful, highly competitive real estate broker. She also happens to be too irritatingly brash, incredibly self-absorbed and compulsively self-sufficient to cater to or care about Andy's frustrations, more specifically to his immediate or long-term emotional needs. Neither can remember when or why love dropped out of the picture.

Between sporadic interviews for jobs, Andy has taken to spending solitary afternoons on a park bench. His loneliness and neediness is noticed by Samantha (Deborah Baum), a very pretty, shapely 20-something medical student whose condo overlooks the park. They engage in a purely sexual affair, their encounters so exciting and soul-satisfying that Andy seriously considers leaving his wife. Samantha makes it clear however, she isn't interested in a serious relationship.

Things quickly get complicated, convoluted, and (from our point of view) contrived when Evelyn is told she has breast cancer, and her oncologist's assistant turns out to be Samantha. Mercifully unaware of the trysts between Andy and Samantha, Evelyn has also contracted Samantha to sell her condo: one coincidence too many.

Despite the fact that the plot begins to spin like a turgid soap opera, Apple is filled with brief but bristling encounters and conscience-exposing snippets of dialogue that grow increasingly poignant, and involving. The circumstances that propel these three people soon become the catalyst for changes of heart, re-evaluating relationships and the need for re-commitment. Each character, sometimes alone but also sometimes as part of concerted trio, delivers a series of terse monologues that express their inner selves.

Exceptions are fragments from a medical seminar lecture given by Samantha on the various stages and changes of cancer in the body. These segue gently into scenes that include the heated confrontations between Andy and Evelyn and the curiously less heated sexual encounters between Andy and Samantha.

Vern Thiessen's almost defiantly humorless but compelling reality-based play is also rooted in abstraction and requires carefully calibrated performances and deft directorial control. It gets these with Director SuzAnne Barabas at the helm and three fine actors. They help Apple to fulfill its mission as a lyrically cadenced drama and also as a literal affirmation of ordinary people able to rise to the occasion.

Pollard, who is balding and pudgy but irrepressibly appealing, is at firstconsigned to be unsympathetic, passive and a bit wimpy. His performance as the increasingly conflicted Andy becomes more viable and impassioned in the light of Evelyn's increased vulnerability and dependence, as well as through the exposure of Samantha's own serious insecurities. Baum as Samantha has ample opportunities to display her curvy body and the complexity of her character. Todd makes the biggest and most startling transition from alienating bitchy to an almost beatified Evelyn. All three actors are veterans of the NJ stage.

Aside from a few pieces of furniture, the set design by Jessica Parks consists of three large Japanese silk screen panels depicting the sun, the sky and a flowering tree. It is simple, handsome and effective.

Besides being a viable destination option for disenchanted US citizens, Canada nurtures and occasionally returns its generosity by exporting its home-grown talent. Thiessen is one of Canada's most lauded and produced playwrights but has yet to make a big splash on this side of North America. Off-Broadway audiences were given a chance to appreciate his skill as a unique voice in dramatic literature with a very fine production in 2005 of Einstein's Gift (Curtainup Review). Apple had its premiere at Workshop West Theatre in Edmonton in 2002, was produced in Toront at the Factory Theater, and had its US premiere at Profiles Theatre in Chicago last year. It is having its New Jersey premiere with only some minor changes, mainly the optional inclusion of an intermission which is jolting and short-circuits the play's need for fluidity as a sustained composition.

  By Vern Thiessen
  Directed by SuzAnne Barabas

Cast: Deborah Baum, Michael Irvin Pollard, Carol Todd.
  Scenic Design: Jessica Parks
  Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
  Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
  Original Music and Sound Design: Merek Royce Press
  Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes including intermission
  The New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ. (732) 229 — 3166
  Performances: Thursdays and Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 3 PM and 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM.
  Opened 10/25/08 Ends 11/23/08
  Tickets ($36.50) Discounts for senior citizens and seniors.
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 10/25/08

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