The eternal story of men and women appears at Venice Theatre with The Apple Tree.
By Kay Kipling
It’s always intriguing to see something different on area stages—a piece not glimpsed before, or at least not for a very long time. Such is the case with Venice Theatre’s The Apple Tree, a trilogy of short plays with songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick.
All three plays relate to love, the eternal bond between a man and a woman. The first is the longest and perhaps the best known; it’s taken from Mark Twain’s The Diary of Adam and Eve, and stars Brian Rudolph and Kathryn Ohrenstein as the first pair, learning about each other and the world around them in the Garden of Eden.
Set on a stage with a few cutouts for trees, flowers and later a rudimentary shelter, the Adam and Eve section retains much of the Twain charm. Adam is at first quite resistant to the interfering Eve, who’s much better at naming things than he is and also tends to talk more than he’d like. It isn’t long before she takes to interior decorating, too. But after a while, he admits, she’s becoming “an interesting creature” to him. Eventually, after the fall due to that snaky snake (Ryan Kimball Fitts) and the forbidden apple, they set up housekeeping outside of Eden and start to raise a family—even though both are initially quite puzzled as to just what sort of animal the first baby is.
Ohrenstein and Rudolph work well together here, alternating between funny moments and more bittersweet ones; you may find yourself surprisingly touched as the first act ends.
They’re back, with a few more cast members, to present Frank Stockton’s classic short story The Lady and the Tiger. This time out Ohrenstein plays a princess who’s torn between her passion for Captain Sanjar (Rudolph) and her jealousy; when their forbidden love is discovered by her father, the king, Sanjar is put to the famous test of choosing between two doors. Behind one lies a killer tiger; behind the other, the woman he must wed. Will the princess, who knows which is which, steer him toward death or let him find happiness with another? I won’t spoil the outcome here for those who haven’t read the story.
The last piece, Passionella, by Jules Feiffer, is perhaps the least successful of the three playlets, although Ohrenstein is charming as both a mousy chimney sweep named Ella and the glamorous movie star she eventually becomes, thanks to a sort of fairy godfather. This one feels dated (the musical originally bowed in 1966), and a bit confusing once Passionella’s love interest (again, Rudolph), enters the scene; he wears an Elvis-like pompadour, clothes and attitude, yet spouts the sort of protest lyrics of a young Bob Dylan.
Overall, though, as staged by director Dan Higgs and headlined by Ohrenstein and Rudolph, The Apple Tree is a pleasurable way to pass an evening. It continues through Oct. 18 at Venice Theatre; call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.