The Apple Tree Review: A great performance of an incomplete musical

Written by: Jake Love, staff writer

DAYTON, Tenn. — The long-anticipated Hilltop Players’ production of the musical The Apple Tree, which was under the direction of Theatre instructor Alexis Landry, opened to a thrilled audience. Many Bryan students and Dayton residents are fans of the Players’ productions, as shown by the successful turnout that accompanied the showings. 

I was excited to see the show as well, since it was the first play of Bryan College’s that I have ever been to. However, while I enjoyed the talent-ridden performances of the Players and the excellent music that accompanied them, I felt unsatisfied by the show’s story and message, or more specifically, the lack of one. 

Let’s start with a look at the music.

The orchestra, under the direction of Vaughn Cardona, played songs which fit perfectly with almost every scene they were paired with. The music was epic when the scene was grand, soft when the scene was delicate and light when the scene was fun. I especially liked the inclusion of the harp (played by Mary Brown) and flute (played by Allyson Underwood) in the orchestra, as they added some surrealism and serenity to the whole show. 

Additionally, I thought the vocal performances were fantastic. The production’s actors had the kind of voices that demand attention. They were powerful and conveyed lots of emotions, which I found a great addition to the show. 

The night’s stand-out performer was first-time Hilltop Player Joshua Goodpaster, who played the roles of Adam in act one, Balladeer in act two and the Narrator in act three. His performances were energetic and charming, making him the star of the show. He received the most applause at curtain call. 

Another stand-out performance came from Sydney Goff, who played Eve in act one and Princess Barbara in act two. Her vocals were powerful and passionate, which made her performance stick. 

I also thought the choreography was well done. The musical numbers were filled with charisma and charm, especially during act two, where the ensemble’s choreography showed a precision and intensity that can only be reached by raw talent and lots of work. The choreography really made the production an epic experience. 

However, I do have some critiques of the show that are about the content of The Apple Tree itself, not the performance. 

My first critique is really just one of personal preference, but I’m including it because it did bother me during my experience of the show. The critique is that I found the inclusion of Mark Twain’s short story “The Diary of Adam and Eve” in act one to be offensive, despite Landry’s best intentions. 

Let me explain the nature of the musical The Apple Tree. Each act of this three-act show is based on a short story, each of which is completely different. 

However, the stories are put together because, as outlined by Landry in the play’s program, the individual themes center around the question, “What happens when we know ‘what’s forbidden to know?’” In other words, how do we handle encounters with temptation when our heart’s greatest desire, and all the enticing possibilities therein, is held out to us for the taking?

Synopsis of scenes and cast list for The Apple Tree.

The first act story is one in which Twain alters the story of Adam and Eve to depict how he believed the first man and woman would interact. The story is actually funny, as Adam and Eve’s personalities clash in some of the stereotypical husband-and-wife conflicts, with Adam being the machoman who always wants to build and be productive while Eve is the care-free romantic who loves to decorate. 

The story does depict how Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were banished from Eden, bringing death into the world. The story then follows the two building a home and raising their family outside of Eden.

However, the act closes with Adam’s character, after Eve’s death, reflecting how he’s glad that they ate the forbidden fruit and were banished from Eden. 

The character says, “Eve died today. I knew she would, of course. Well, at least her prayer was answered-she went first. Now that she’s gone, I realize something I didn’t realize before. I used to think it was a terrible tragedy when Eve and I had to leave the garden. Now I know it really didn’t matter. Because, wheresoever she was, there was Eden. And now, I have to go water her flowers. She loved them, you know.”

Granted, Landry wrote in the program how the story was not meant to be biblically accurate or to offend anyone, but instead to reflect the nature of Adam and Eve’s hypothetical relational development. 

However, I found the story’s closing to be insensitive to the true nature of the actions of Adam and Eve. 

I felt this way because of how I interpret some scriptures, particularly some verses in Romans; Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all have sinned,” and Romans 5:18 says, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 

I interpret these verses to mean that in Christianity, Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit is the reason sin, and by extension everything bad that exists and happens, comes about. Hence, I felt as though the character of Adam to be portrayed as not caring about that reality is insensitive to how traumatic I feel the story of Adam and Eve is. 

Performing this story on the campus of a secular college or university is acceptable, but in my opinion, to have it shown on the campus of a Christian institution is inappropriate. Again, this is an opinion of personal preferences, but I found the inclusion of that particular story offensive. 

My second critique of the show is more broad. In summation, I felt like The Apple Tree just didn’t have anything to say. 

As a prerequisite, a good story either needs to raise a question and answer it or have something to say, and I feel like The Apple Tree didn’t really do either.  The Apple Tree did raise a question about temptation, but instead of answering it, they just danced around it and didn’t offer their own opinion. Jerry Brock and Sheldon Harnick, the original authors of this show, just didn’t know where they were going, and that made me feel unsatisfied by the story. 

This idea is reflected in an essay by Ernest Hemingway from Death in the Afternoon. He asserted, “If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had staged them… A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.” 

I think the writers of The Apple Tree either omitted the answer to the question they were posing because they didn’t have one, or they omitted it but didn’t allude to it enough to make it clear, and that made the whole story, in my opinion, feel hollow.  

To conclude, I would’ve recommended the Hilltop Players’ production of The Apple Tree to someone who is looking for great music, vocals and choreography, but not to someone who is looking for a story that feels complete or satisfying. 

*Note: this article expresses the ideas and opinions of the author and are not a reflection of the views of the Triangle or Bryan College as a whole.

Jake Love is a staff writer for the Triangle. He is an English major with an emphasis on creative writing and commutes from Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. He enjoys reading and consuming large amounts of caffeine.