Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's review of Come from Away
Suh was inspired to write this play by his own family history. In 1950, when his father was five or six years old, war broke out on the Korean peninsula, and his family fled the apple orchard which provided their livelihood for what they hoped would be safety in the port city of Pusan. Suh's father was given the job of carrying a backpack filled with apples.
In Bina's Six Apples we find ten-year-old Bina in her treehouse, perched in an apple tree. Her father abruptly approaches to tell her that the family must leave at once, as the war is coming closer to their orchard. They will head on foot to Pusan, carrying everything they will need in their new life, especially food, pots and pans. Their journey of 70 miles will entail crossing wide rivers and navigating mountains. Bina is old enough to ask questions such as "what is the war about?" and "which side is the good side?"questions for which her father has no suitable answers. Like the playwright's father, Bina is given the job of carrying apples. Her backpack only holds six, but she decides that is a good number: it means that when they get to Pusan there will be an apple for each family member: for her father, her mother, her older sister and brother, her grandmother, and herself.
Shortly after setting out, the family is beset by an air attackstaged with brilliant light, sound and visual effectsand all goes dark. When the lights return, Bina is separated from all the others and frightened. She has the presence of mind to know she must reach Pusan and meet her family there. But which way is Pusan? How will she get there on her own? Nonetheless, she sets out. Along the way she encounters a woman desperately trying to reach her son, a good-hearted soldier separated from his troop, a ferryperson whose boat, for a price, can get Bina across an imposing river, a merchant who has goods for sale that can aid Bina in her quest, and a boy younger than herself, lost within his dreams in a village that has been savagely attacked. Each of these encounters give Bina something of value to help her get closer to Pusan, but also to learn about herself.
The play's clearly written dialogue creates a clear understanding of each encounter and the terms of the transactions between Bina and those she meets. More than anything, Mina is determined to make it to Pusan with all six of her prized apples. After all, it is her job to carry them, and her familywhom she must believe she will findare counting on her to deliver this sustenance to them. As Bina becomes more distraught, she expresses racing inner thoughts, often ricocheting between opposing viewpoints, by speaking aloud to her apples, her constant companions. This brings to mind the character played by Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway who makes a volleyball that washed up on shore into his companion. It puts us inside the mind of our young heroine revealing the way her predicament simultaneously feeds into her worst fears and provides fodder for unexpected hope and resiliency.
At eighty minutes without intermission, the play moves fleetly without ever feeling rushed. It has the aura of a folk tale with archetypal characters and a direct narrative, but it does not shy away from the grim reality of a child alone in a war zone. Director Eric Ting blends both aspects together, making Bina's Six Apples beautiful to watch, even as it stirs deeply felt concern for Bina and outrage over the untold number of children like her in similar situations around the world today.
As written, Bina is a stylized representation of a such a child in peril, both innocent and resilient. As performed by Olivia Lampert, Bina becomes a fully fleshed out person. Lampert's performance is quite remarkable, drawing us in to believe in Bina's intelligence and heart, the way she processes her choices, the decisions she makes to persevere. Lampert is a young actor to keep an eye on.
The remaining actors are excellent, though with less opportunity to create fully formed characters. Sun Mee Chomet is impressive, as always, as Bina's mother, trying to put a positive face on the ordeal she and her family face, and as the merchant, a cousin to Mother Courage, surviving on the desperation of the war's victims. Joseph Pendergrast etches a moving portrait as a terribly conflicted soldier who only wants to make it home, and Elizabeth Pan is persuasive as Hamee, weary with age and the need to make yet another flight to safety when she has already suffered so many. Jayden Ham has a very short role as the boy Bina encounters, left alone after the enemy has decimated his village, but is astonishing in conveying the haunted quality of a young child whose world has been scorched.
Jiyoun Chang's set design create a spare environment, with an elegant East Asian line drawing of the mountains as a backdrop, and handcarts that serve as everything from a market stall to a ferryboat to clumps of jungle foliage, while her lighting design brings to life the sweltering heat of the days, the frightening loneliness of night, and the bountiful guidance of stars above. The costumes by Junghyun Georgia Lee are completely in keeping with the characters and their circumstances, while Fabian Obispo's soundscape makes the war an ever-present reality.
Bina's Six Apples is a co-production between Children's Theatre Company and Alliance Theatre, a Tony Award winning regional theater based in Atlanta that has seen nine of its productions transfer to Broadway. It is scheduled to play at Alliance Theatre in March. Children's Theatre Company has done exceedingly well to commission this moving and important work that fits handily within its mission, yet has the potential to reach beyond, and to launch it in a thoroughly winning production.
I attended the show with two young friends, ages 9 and 11, who were spellbound. From the moment the house lights came back on till I dropped them off at their home 40 minutes later, the three of us raptly discussed motivations of the options available to Bina. Bina's Six Apples is an affecting show that reaches pre-teens as well as old timers like myself. It deserves to be seen by everyone on both ends and in-between.
Bina's Six Apples runs through February 13, 2022, at Children's Theatre Company 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis MN. Tickets are $15.00 - $58.00. Ten percent discount for purchase of six or more tickets. $10.00 discount on most seats for children up to age 17, seniors (age 62 and up) and military adults. For tickets call 612-874-0400 or go to childrenstheatre.org.
Playwright: Lloyd Suh; Director: Eric Ting; Scenic and Lighting Design: Jiyoun Chang; Costume Design: Junghyun Georgia Lee; Composer and Sound Design: Fabian Obispo; Movement Director: Marcela Lorca; Dramaturgs: Elissa Adams, Miriam Weisfeld; Assistant Costume Designer: Ilana Breitman; Associate Lighting Designer: Marie Yokayoma; Assistant Lighting Designer: Ellie Simonett; Stage Manager: Chris Schweiger; Assistant Stage Manager: Kenji Shoemaker.
Cast: Sun Mee Chomet (Mother, merchant), Shelli Delgado (Youngsoo, another mother), Jayden Ham (boy), Olivia Lampert (Bina), Elizabeth Pan (Hamee), Albert Park (Father, boatperson), Joseph Pendergrast (Jinsoo, soldier).