As an older brother to a younger sister, I understand the unique relationship that a brother and sister have. As I watched the world premiere of Alfred Uhry’s Apples & Oranges at the Alliance Theatre, I found myself thinking about that relationship as much as I was drawn into the story of Marie and Carl. I felt the need to call her and say hello. Perhaps that type of response is the intent of the play. That familial bond forms the emotional connection to this poignant production.
Written by Atlanta native, Pulitzer Prize-winning, Academy Award-winning and Tony Award-winning playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy, Parade), the play is based on Marie Brenner’s memoir Apples and Oranges, My Brother and Me, Lost and Found. It explores the dynamics of sibling rivalry through the contentious relationship of Carl Brenner, played by Tony Carlin (The Best Man, Mamma Mia!, Chinglish) and Marie Brenner, played by Patricia Richardson (Home Improvement, The West Wing). Their strained relationship will find new life when Carl asks for Marie’s help in understanding and coping with his recently diagnosed illness.
The show opens with Richardson walking out on a mostly bare stage containing two stools in front of a plain backdrop designed by Michael Yeargan (The Light in the Piazza). She begins to recount a story of seeing an airplane carrying a banner with the words, “Who are You?” Defining herself as “Carl’s Sister” after seeing the plane, she sets up the dynamics for the remainder of the play about these two polar opposite siblings whose mother described them as “apples and oranges.”
Uhry’s script is filled with snappy zingers – such as when Marie quips to Carl when he tells he is going to stop his law practice and run an apple orchard, “Who do you think you are, Johnny Appleseed?” It also includes tender lines – such as when Carl tells Marie in a memorable scene as his health deteriorates, “Who else do I have but you?” He adapts the memoir well and creates a two person memory play that moves seamlessly between narration and dialogue.
Richardson’s brilliant and emotional performance captivates the audience. Moving back and forth from emotionless narration to an emotion-filled scene, she owns the stage and owns the audience, carefully bringing it on a journey into the soul of the character. Her heartbreaking display in the final few scenes of the play could easily be judged as one of the strongest performances onstage this season.
As the sometimes caustic and stoic Carl, Carlin provides a strong and opposing equal to Richardson. His interpretation of Carl is both humorous and subtle. Beneath the surface of this curmudgeon, his crafty portrayal of an older brother that has an immense appreciation and love for his sister, even if he doesn’t know how to express it, gives the show a unique charm.
While the play will tug at your heart, evident by many audience members wiping away tears on opening night, the emotions of the play seem restrained at the same time. The pacing of the play, as well as the script, require quick movements from an emotional scene to narration that comments on the scene. That emotional restraint keeps the production from being as powerful as it could be, which doesn’t detract from Richardson’s phenomenal onstage presentation.
Apples & Oranges is a simple, yet effective, story of a brother and sister’s love for one another against the back drop of coping with a terminal disease. With its onstage talent and touching story, this play will be well worth the price of admission, and it will leave you appreciating your family all the more.
Directed by Lynne Meadow and produced by special arrangement with the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Alliance Theatre’s world premiere of Alfred Uhry’s Apples & Oranges plays through October 28, 2012. For more information and tickets, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is one hour and fifteen minutes with no intermission.
– Kenny Norton