Theatre 40 offers its subscribers something out of the ordinary in their latest production, the Los Angeles premiere of Vern Thiessen’s Apple. Far more “theatrical” than their customary bill of fare, and rated R for liberal use of the “F” word, Apple is the kind of drama that could easily have become a “Disease Play Of The Week” if not for its unusual structure/staging and a trio of accomplished performances.

Albie Selznick, one of L.A.’s most talented and charismatic leading men, is Andy, who announces to his go-getter of a realtor wife Evelyn (Ellyn Stern) that he’s just been fired from his government job. “Twenty minutes to clean off my desk—after ten years!” he informs Evelyn, though it’s surprising that he can even get a word in edgewise with his wife going on about how prepared she is for everything at work, about how she always keeps an extra skirt in her car and an extra pair of hose in her briefcase, both of which came in handy before today’s high pressure meeting. Well, at least with Evelyn still pulling in big bucks, the couple won’t have money worries during Andy’s unemployment.

As the preceding conversation unfolds on scenic designer Jeff G. Rack’s imaginative, non-literal set, a beautiful young woman dressed in a low-cut, full-length sheath, observes their conversation from afar. The woman, Samantha (Carmit Levité), now moves to stand below a circular screen and begin a lecture on cell reproduction and then, pulling an apple from the upstage cut-out of a tree, approaches Andy, who has taken a seat on a park bench. She strikes up a conversation, and soon Andy is telling her about his lost job:  “It was fun, challenging, the government!” he boasts.  Samantha is a university student who confesses that she’s “never loved anything … except this day,” and as violins begin a seductive air, Samantha has her legs and arms around Andy and begins removing her dress. “Be patient,” she whispers to Andy.  “Listen.  Ssh …” and the two make love. 

Not long after that, Andy is back at home, Evelyn is back to bitching, and things are back to normal in Andy’s life, which Samantha is once again observing from a distance.

Fortunately for Evelyn, the still spunky Andy is ready for another round of lovemaking, this time with his wife, though when Andy grabs one of Evelyn’s breasts, his gesture provokes not a moan but a scream. “They’re not apples!” she barks, and that’s the end of any afternoon delight.  “It’s sick,” Evelyn tells Andy.  “This marriage is ill.” Andy should take out the fucking garbage—and find a job!

With a home life like this, it’s no wonder Andy finds himself once again in Samantha’s arms and hoping for a second chance with her, something which Samantha isn’t at all in the mood to provide.  “I’m not your way out, you know,” she informs him in no uncertain terms, but Andy’s mind is made up.  He’s going to leave Evelyn, not for Samantha or for them as a couple. He’s just going to do it.

Back to Evelyn, who’s meeting with her latest client, a gorgeous young woman interested in selling her late mother’s upscale condo with a view of Andy’s park.  Since Apple has only three characters, who should this beauty be but Samantha?  Now it’s Andy who’s watching the action from across the stage, apple in hand. When Evelyn mentions casually that her husband was given twenty minutes to clear off his desk after ten years at his job, bells ring in Samantha’s head.

And speaking of bells—any which might have rung in the audience’s heads at Ellyn’s scream during her aborted lovemaking attempt with Andy are borne out when she pays a visit to the doctor and learns that… 

Anyone unable to finish the sentence has not seen enough Lifetime Television For Women, and anyone capable of spelling the word coincidence can guess who Evelyn’s doctor’s assistant is.


Fortunately, Thiessen’s skillful writing and Rachel Goldberg’s imaginative direction help to avoid clichés, and the rich, layered performances given by Selznick, Stern, and Levité keep Apple firmly rooted in reality even when certain “artistic” touches make it at times a bit artsy for my tastes. (For example, when two characters interact, the third character is often choreographed to mirror their movements in nearly balletic fashion, sometimes holding that metaphorical apple.)

Like Paul Newman, Selznick’s work is so completely natural and unaffected that it’s easy to overlook just how talented and winning he is in whatever role he undertakes.  Stern does powerful work as Evelyn, whether in her biting monolog recalling a conversation with quite possibly the most inhumane doctor ever, or her breakdown as she confronts his very bleak prognosis. Finally, Levité is as they say a real find. With her film star beauty (think a young Michelle Pfeiffer), first rate acting chops, and a charming and vaguely British accent (she’s South African/Israeli), Levité is a dazzling new addition to the L.A. theater scene.

Meghan Hong does her accustomed fine work as lighting designer, as does Christine Cover Ferro as costume designer. Bill Froggatt’s sound design provides a nice mix of new age music and French and Spanish language songs. Video engineer Don Solosan and animator Benjamin Goldman have created some stunning images to accompany the plot, particularly those of cancer cells multiplying like blossoms on a tree.

What is the meaning of love, of commitment?  Can love grow where it seemed not to have existed before?  In times of crisis, is it right to follow one’s heart or face one’s responsibilities? Apple asks these difficult questions, and is likely to provide much food for thought and post-performance conversation. What would I do in this type of situation?  How would I react?  Among the three characters, whose side am I on and why?

See Apple. Then discuss amongst yourselves.

Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills.

–Steven Stanley
April 29, 2009
                                                                             Photos: Ed Krieger

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