nytheatre.com review by Unknown
The Johnny Chapman (aka Appleseed) who roams the Ohio River Valley in The Bushwick Hotel's production of Johnny Applef?%ker does so with a knapsack full of alcohol and apple seeds. The former he uses to seduce settlers, both male and female; the latter are bestowed upon his conquests as gifts to plant on vacant bits of their lands. He's a lovable love-'em-and-leave-'em type with a vision of apple trees as far as the eye can notice. And it is through this vision that he hopes to achieve a legacy.
July 12, 2007
One day, however, Johnny runs into the Beetles: Mr. Beetle, his wife Beulah, and their 11-year old daughter, Patience. He gets them and their neighbors drunk, dances wildly with them in celebration and, rather unexpectedly, falls in love with Patience. Their primary love scene—cleverly written, staged, and acted by Rachel Shukert, Stephen Brackett, and Frank Boyd and Audrey Lynn Weston respectively—culminates in an Edenic bite of an apple and their subsequent expulsion from the Valley.
Part of the play also takes place in the late 1940s where Walt Disney works through a serious conundrum: he cannot find an effective way of displaying the spirit of America in the newly conceived Pioneerland being constructed for his theme park. After discussing the matter with Nazi Doctor, an assistant with some interesting ideas about World War II, they decide to take a Mickey Mouse Hat shaped time machine back to the Ohio River Valley to conduct the necessary research. One of my favorite moments in the show came when, upon arrival, Walt pops his head up from between the ears of the time machine and announces with a smile, "Hi! I'm Walt Disney!" whereupon the townsfolk run away screaming. Given Disney's tendency to prettify fables and fairy tales, I found this a reasonable response.
And did I mention the first third of the play is a musical narrated by a raccoon and his band of merry forest denizens?
There's a lot happening in Johnny Applef?%ker and most of it is crazy, intelligent fun. The rest of the play follows Johnny and Patience's expulsion from the frontier and their journey to the Magic Kingdom, which challenges both Johnny's integrity as well as his legacy. Shukert's script throws a lot of ideas into the pot, some of which never quite develop, but she does a great job of highlighting the clash between past and present while recognizing that America's need to reinterpret and bottle the spirit of its past may have serious consequences on the country's future as well as its soul.
The cast is uniformly excellent, with special mention to Peter Cook's versatility, Audrey Lynn Weston's subtlety, and Van Hasis's cross-dressing. Sarah Pearline's set seems like something out of a Disney cartoon but with subtler edges and earthier undertones. Anjeanette Stokes's lighting does an excellent job of defining the various spaces and eras while imbuing the more abstract moments with meaning and clarity. And The Animal Band plays too well to leave so early. Please bring them back. Please.