With a theme of "forbidden fruit" binding together its three otherwise disjointed parts, Drexel Co-op Theatre Company's production of "The Apple Tree" was staged at the Mandell Theater over the weekend with decidedly mixed results.
Act I tells the story of Adam and Eve in semi-modern parameters. The characters find themselves to be the sole humans and reluctant partners who must navigate their instantly apparent gender roles. It was not surprising to learn that the show was first performed in 1966, because those roles come across as positively outmoded. After Eve and Adam have been together for many years, Eve states simply, during one of the last songs, that she loves him for simplistic reasons: "It's that he's masculine, and that he's mine." Obviously he's her only option on this planet, and perhaps their love is realistic in mimicking that of older people who no longer know why they love each other, only that they do. But from the perspective of 21sst century, there is nothing believable or challenging about their relationship to hold onto.
Act II is more thought-provoking and ridiculous yet still more digestible than Act I. It's the tale of "A Barbaric Kingdom" told in the setting of a high school with plenty of spirit. The love-bitten princess is the homecoming queen; the brave knight is a football star, the gladiatorial beast a mascot in costume. At its base, it's a cautionary tale against choosing a jealous lover, and its ambiguous ending is meant to inspire audience members to consider what they might do in a similarly precarious situation.
Act III is the most fun, singing the struggles of a chimney sweep destined for stardom. Sadsack Ella is switched out for a more fabulous version of herself when a voiceover fairy godmother informs her that between the 6 p.m. news hour and the late-late-show, she will transform into the buxom, beautiful "Passionella." Hilarity ensues, and Act I is redeemed when its actors are brought together in a finally satisfying way.
There's nothing too serious going on in "The Apple Tree." Sure, there are life-changing choices being made, but above all, it's for entertainment. Cute in the way that exaggerated American musicals — "The Music Man" and "Barnum" come to mind — are, the three acts seem to be striving for a campy version of "Our Town" with their themes of love, companionship and death. Still, "The Apple Tree" will never reach Classics status, which begs the question of why anyone would bother staging such a show today.
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