3/19/2022         BINA'S SIX APPLES                            Alliance Theatre / Children's Theatre Co

 

CHILDREN AND WAR AND REMEMBRANCE

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Sometimes the forces that coordinate news and art align (a little too) perfectly, and a long-scheduled theatrical event synchronizes with the latest horrors screaming from the headlines.  Such it is with Lloyd Suh’s Bina’s Six Apples, a world premiere Co-Production of Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre Company and the Alliance Theatre.  Centering on a 10-year-old refugee fleeing the Korean War, we can’t help but be reminded of the flood of refugees escaping Ukraine and the atrocities occurring in Mariupol.

 

As the program takes great pains to tell us, this is NOT a play for children, but a play directed towards all family members, and, indeed, contains scenes that may be too intense for the under-nine members of the family.  I found it incredible moving and compelling, a beautiful portrait of the determination and courage of its young heroine, and a reminder that we usually view war stories from the perspective of the combatants, and NOT the witnesses, who, more often than not, eventually become “collateral damage.”

 

The Korean War comes to the mountain home of Bina and her family.  Forced to flee south to Busan, the southernmost city of the Korean Peninsula, a journey of 70 miles, it will take the family over mountains and across rivers, carrying only what they can take on their backs and in their arms.   As the youngest member of the family, Bina is too small to really “carry her share,” so her father assigns her the vital task of carrying six apples, the best apples in all of Korea, carefully chosen from their orchard (the family’s pride and joy).  This is the “most important task,” as these apples will help feed them on their trek and start them on their new lives in the newer (presumably safer) home and town.

But this is a war zone, and Bina is soon separated from her family.  Determined to make it to Busan on her own, she faces the long walk with all the determination and bravery she can muster.  Along the way she meets a woman heading north to find her own family, a soldier deserting and heading to a different southern town, an entrepreneurial boat owner who would gladly take Bina south if only she’d part with one of her precious apples, a merchant willing to trade a map for an apple, a young boy left alone in a town that has suffered total annihilation, and the unrelenting specter of starvation.

 

Can Bina resist the pleas of all her new friends, resist the “cost” of getting to Busan, resist the temptation to fill her own empty belly?  After all, the six apples are for the six members of her family, and if any are missing, someone she loves must go without.

 

A friend described this show as “good but depressing,” an analysis with which I must respectfully disagree.  Yes, it is focused on a young girl facing incomprehensible danger and trauma.  She must make critical choices that would defeat the wisest of us.   Yet she perseveres and, if it’s not a spoiler to say so, she survives.  How can it be depressing when all of her difficult choices seem correct, seem to pay off in unexpected ways?  How can it be depressing when she learns something new from everyone she encounters?  How can it be depressing when she brings out the best in those she meets (and they bring out the best in her)?

 

This story is inspired by the Lloyd Suh’s father’s experiences in the war, and it is filled with an air of remembrance, with an acknowledgement that the trauma of war is not the only memory to be embraced, that amidst the noise and fury and terror, there is also humor and family and connection and small victories, small charities, small lessons that seem almost designed to support our small protagonist.

 

Young Olivia Lampert is superb as Bina (after playing the role in Minneapolis) and she is why this is such a compelling story.  Every inch a 10-year-old, she can be irritating and whiny, especially as the journey begins, but she is also able to “rise to the danger,” keeping her focus on saving those apples and reuniting with her family, despite not knowing if they will be in Busan or if they are even alive.  She is ably supported by wonderful work from Sun Mee Chomet (Mother and Merchant), Albert Park (Father and Boat Person), Shelli Delgado (Youngsoo), Elizabeth Pan (Hamee), Joseph Pendergrast (Jinsoo and Soldier), and Alexander Chen (Young Boy). 

 

On a minimalist set (designed and lit by Jiyoun Chang) and expertly directed by Eric Ting, Bina’s Six Apples takes us on a journey of survival.  Starting claustrophobically down stage, the back wall opens up a little more with each scene until the stage is fully open, leaving Bina isolated in a spot of light as her journey ends for good or for ill.  Fabian Obispo has composed an elegant score, using keyboard and Korean strings and percussion, that fully evokes time, place, and mood.

 

I opened this piece by citing the synchronous timing of this production with the news from Ukraine.  But the sad fact is, it will ALWAYS be relevant,  Before Ukraine, there was Syria, Afghanistan, Central American, literally every corner of the earth where armies meet and clash and do the bidding of politicians.  And, to echo my friend’s thought, what IS depressing is it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a world in which this play will NOT be relevant.

 

And yet, like Bina, we persevere.  We celebrate small victories.  We help when we can, where we can.  And we (more often than not) let our better angels suppress the demons that want us to minimize the humanity of refugees.

 

Refugees, who, more often than not, are children.

 

     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy    #BinasSixApples  #AllianceTheatre  #ChildrensTheatreCompany)