The Pear welcomes the world premiere of Paul Braverman’s latest work, The Apple Never Falls, as their current offering. Take a trip into 1964 Boston at the height of the Boston Strangler’s reign of terror in this film noir style story following Frankie Payne, a hard-boiled detective turned private eye. Per her client’s wishes, she investigates the murders attributed to the Strangler, searching for clues, and in the process, evaluating relationships, heredity, and furthering the age-old nature/nurture debate. This is a sequel of sorts to Braverman’s first Frankie Payne adventure, No Good Deed, which debuted at The Pear in early 2011. Braverman’s writing is fun, and being firmly planted in the noir genre, he smacks you with some twists that you don’t see coming, although the clues are there if you know where to look.
In this installment, Diane Tasca reprises her role as Frankie Payne, now off the police force, gin-soaked and tobacco stained, but still sharp as a tack. Frankie’s father, P. T. Riley (John Musgrave) summons Frankie to his hospital room, rich, but dying of a bad heart. Riley’s attorney, Robert Burke (Dale Albright), later contacts Frankie via his secretary Grace (Katie O’Bryon Champlin) with news of her father’s demise.
Frankie’s friend and barkeep Meg O’Malley (Patricia Tyler) is in love with Tim Patrick (Ken Boswell) who seems perhaps a bit too good to be true. Meg’s son Jackie (Michael Weiland) has been a boxer, but he somewhat innocently falls in with the Winter Hill Gang and is quickly in over his head. Jackie’s boss, Howie Murphy (Keith Marshall) knows the ropes, and he isn’t a man you’d want to meet alone in a dark alley. And finally, Detective Vincent Falcone (Todd Wright) turns up looking to sort out Jackie’s involvement with the Irish Mob and Frankie’s interest in the Boston Strangler case.
Braverman’s script reads very tightly on paper. As is typical of the genre, it sets up the story in Act 1 and races at break net speed in Act 2 to take you on the journey to the story’s somewhat convoluted conclusion. On stage, it doesn’t run quite as fast, and in fact, there are a few places where Act 1 crawls a bit, in part due to late script changes during rehearsal that some of the cast hadn’t quite internalized by opening night, but that should smooth out very quickly. Act 2, on the other hand, still packs the same punch it does on paper, keeping the audience members on the edge of their seats.
Michael Champlin pulls double duty in this one serving as both director and sound designer. Utilizing Ron Gasparinetti’s inventive set and Selina Young’s lighting design, Champlin’s staging fits the story like a glove, hugging every inch of The Pear’s performance space, but eliminating the need for any set movement. The set identifies regions of the stage signifying Meg’s bar, Frankie’s office, Riley’s hospital room (on the upper level of the set), Burke’s law office, and even the streets of Boston, each section lit appropriately for the action as it shifts from day to night and place to place. In addition to the furnishings, the floor’s pattern helps to designate each separate locale by varying the checkerboard color scheme.
A particularly nice bit of staging is evident at the top of Act 2 when the entire cast starts out on stage simultaneously in every location while Frankie’s voiceover gives us some of her history and some of the current status as each character silently goes about his or her business. One by one, they each drift away until full lights up as the narration ends, and we are left with Frankie in her office as Falcone enters. It would have been nice to have seen a similar scenario early in the show for the initial voiceover which occurs in darkness immediately after the first scene.
Tasca is wonderful as Frankie. Her quick and comfortable line delivery makes Frankie believable, likeable, and relentless as she mows down the obstacles in her search for the truth. In particular, her scenes with Wright are some of the best in the production, their witty repartee easily flying back and forth as their characters first insult each other but clearly respect one another’s capabilities and talents. Tasca also has some nice moments with Tyler, though not quite in a heart-to-heart tone. While Meg comes across as weathered but sweet (mostly), Frankie isn’t a soft, touchy-feely type of person, but she still makes it clear that she cares.
Albright is comfortable in Burke’s skin, and his carriage imparts the professionalism a lawyer would exude. While most of the cast adopts some form of Boston dialect, Albright doesn’t, sticking with a more generic and educated vocal cadence. Musgrave too avoids the Bostonian tinge as he delivers his lines convincingly as an Irishman.
Boswell’s Tim is more generic in speech as well and is smooth, yet slimy. Although he’s a bit shaky on some of his lines, his tone projects the proper emotion whoever he’s addressing should feel. Weiland, Marshall, and Tyler also stumble on some of their dialogue, but they too are believable as their misses fit the emotions of the moment, particularly in Marshall’s case. Marshall is convincing as the semi-dimwitted thug passing himself off to his young apprentice as a man of the world. Weiland and Marshall work well together conveying the student/teacher relationship as they descend into the darkness of the gang’s activities.
Weiland and O’Bryon Champlin are cute together, he fumbling as the bashful and smitten young man, she the not quite trusting, yet spunky and professional young woman. Their characters’ quick rapport is at first slightly contrived, but it works in the overall plot scheme.
The show is full of current recordings of Tom Waits’ music nicely filling out the noir elements under Tasca’s voiceovers with “Ain’t Goin’ Down to the Well” playing underneath. “Bad as Me” is heard under the flashback sequences, and other recently recorded selections from the same artist are heard during every scene change.
If you enjoy an entertaining and smartly written detective yarn, The Apple Never Falls is the show for you. Don’t delay too long in getting your tickets though. Opening weekend was completely sold out.
What: The Apple Never Falls
Where: Pear Avenue Theatre, 1220 Pear Avenue, Unit K, Mountain View, CA 94043
When: Continues through 10 March 2013, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 2PM.
See http://www.thepear.org or call (650)254-1148 for tickets or more information.
(Photo courtesy of The Pear)