Review By Michelle Sutton
Written by Jessica Bellamy and directed by Scarlet McGlynn, A is for Apple follows the intersecting journeys of a young Jewish girl preparing for her Bat Mitzvah and the Jewish woman in her early 20s who is tasked with the duty of mentoring her. Together they explore identity, faith and feminism and endeavour to answer the question “what is a Jewish woman?”. A is for Apple is part of Griffin’s Lookout program which supports emerging independent artists to develop and present new Australian theatre.
Amy Hack and Zoe Resnick perform every role in the play. Resnick infuses 12-year-old Shoshana with a convincing amount of fearlessness and frustration. She holds nothing back in the joyful moments where Shoshana dances and “spits” rhymes of bravado as well as in the tearful moments when Shoshana is faced with the weight of tradition, family expectations, socially mandated decorum and the sinking feeling that tells her she may be too big and brash to ever properly fit in. Resnick is able to convey the whole scope of it without it feeling forced and with a deep respect and reverence for young people and the enormous difficulty involved in the process of trying to grow up. Resnick also plays the “first entertainment-based lifestyle coach”, an eccentric motivational guru who harnesses her profound love of Beyonce and other iconic female performers to help her clients unleash their authentic selves and seize their confidence. Amy Hack plays teacher Miriam, who is prompted by Shoshana’s relentless questioning to realise she is not as certain about her life path and worldview as she previously thought. Hack excels in the role of Miriam but also in many minor roles she takes on throughout the play. Her unexpected choices of vocal delivery and stellar physical comedy are a standout. To the credit of Hack and Resnick, as well as playwright Bellamy and director McGlyn, the sisterly relationship depicted on stage is believable and the chemistry between Hack and Resnick is heart-warming.
A is for Apple pulses with energy, exuberance and courage. It is fun, comedic and very warm and inviting. The opening of the play is especially strong, with a daydreamed hip hop performance by 12-year-old Shoshana, transitioning into a reveal of her head drooping on her shoulder, mouth-wide open, asleep during shul, leading to the absolute horror of her mentor Miriam beside her. The world of these two women is vividly clear and these characters so incredibly familiar. They are often witty, sometimes insecure, always intelligent and loving, doing their best to exist and resist within complex webs of religion and culture. In their search to define and understand the essence of true Jewish womanhood the protagonists in the play embark on a quest to discover who the matriarchs of the stories in the Torah were beyond wives and vessels for offspring. This is where Bellamy’s uniquely irreverent, chaotically compassionate and imaginative writing propels the show to weird and wonderful places, with absolutely hysterical scenes unfolding that are laugh-out-loud funny and surprising.
Music and pop culture play a vital role in the show, with female pop of the 2000's and 2010’s stars and their bold and unapologetic music videos serving as the inspiration for many epiphanies of empowerment and self-realisation. Composer and Sound Designer Jessica Dunn has done a wonderful job bringing the world to life. The set is sparse and simple with only 2 wooden chairs, allowing for many location changes against the appropriately vibrant backdrop of the hot pink- and peach-coloured walls with an ever-present apple tree right in the centre of the back wall.
The play’s runtime is 75 minutes with no interval, and I feel this is to its detriment. Although the beginning to middle of the play is perfectly paced, the middle to the end feels a little rushed and premature. As the story is so engaging, fun and complex, I really believe that a more fully fleshed-out ending would do justice to the world Bellamy has built. Coming out of what is essentially a time-travelling montage directly into Shoshana’s Bat Mitzvah speech is a little jarring and overwhelming. Allowing the audience a chance to wrestle robustly with the complex ideas presented and to critically reflect would bring everything full circle. I think the show may work even better as a longer two-act play, which would facilitate the time and space for the audience to sit and rest in the co-existing truths presented.
Overall, A is for Apple is a really enjoyable and thought-provoking play with beautiful writing and first-class performances. However, in my opinion it would become a truly fantastic play with just a little more substance in the second half, to tie all of its many threads together in a way that would leave a lasting and profound impression on the audience.
Image Credit: Robert Catto