Eden is lovely but light in 'Apple Tree'

June 24, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Ah, the war between the sexes! When did it all begin? To quote a profound source -- the Mindbenders' 1965 pop hit, "Game of Love": "It started long ago in the Garden of Eden."

That's the setting for a somewhat more profound exploration of the subject -- "The Apple Tree," a 1966 musical comedy based on Mark Twain's satirical "Diary of Adam and Eve" by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, with additional material by Jerome Coopersmith. It also happens to be a setting well-suited to the Evergreen House meadow -- site of Theatre Hopkins' annual al fresco production.

But while the meadow makes a good surrogate Eden -- if you overlook the clumsy amplification as well as the fact that the fateful apple is hanging from a maple tree -- the evening is rather thin. This is primarily because director Suzanne Pratt has staged only one-third of Bock and Harnick's three-act musical, the other two acts of which were adapted from short stories by Frank R. Stockton and Jules Feiffer.

The Twain portion, though only about an hour long, is pleasant and witty, as well as amusingly performed by real-life husband and wife Larry and Rosemary Polen as Adam and Eve, and Todd Pearthree as the Snake. Sticking closely to Twain's text, Bock and Harnick -- who are best known for "Fiddler on the Roof" and "She Loves Me" -- present the prototypes of our species as creatures who were at odds from the moment Adam felt a twinge in his ribs.

Adam is practical and taciturn -- traits Mr. Polen conveys with caveman gruffness. Eve loves beauty and conversation (Mrs. Polen's Eve is a babbling brook of a talker). Eve takes special pride in naming the other creatures -- a task that shows off her intelligence, though she initially mistakes Adam for a reptile (an understandable error).

Both actors do a delightful job with the lovely, relatively undemanding score, but as might be expected, the most colorful member of the cast is Pearthree as the Snake. Garbed in pinstripes and paisley, Pearthree also has the musical's catchiest solo -- the tango-flavored title song. Far from a mustache-twirling villain, however, Pearthree's Snake is understated -- a commendable interpretation considering that the source material is atypically gentle for late Twain.

To help fill out the proceedings, Pratt has included a curtain-raiser titled "Dueling Love Duets" and consisting of four numbers from other musicals, sung by Arthur Laupus and Nancy Asendorf. Laupus' delivery is more spoken than sung, so he's a natural for "Hymn to Him" -- the "speech song" originally delivered by Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady."

The evening's best voice, however, belongs to Asendorf, who also has such a strong sense of character that she makes you wish you were seeing her in a full-fledged musical. But then again, this entire bright-but-slight production makes you wish for a full-fledged musical.

"The Apple Tree"

Where: Evergreen House meadow, 4545 N. Charles St.

When: 6:15 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday. Grounds open at 4:30 p.m. (In case of rain Sunday only, performance will be rescheduled for 8:30 p.m. July 2 at Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins University.) One scheduled indoor matinee at 2:15 p.m. July 3 at Shriver Hall.

Tickets: $10

Call: (410) 516-7159

** 1/2

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