note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
Playwright Kirsten Knisely presents a multi-faceted spectrum of soul mates in “Soul Mates, or Under the Apple Tree,” her breezy, 100-minute, two-act, interconnected vignettes, which spans 66 years, from 1945 to 2011.
Regardless of age, theatergoers identify with Knisely’s touching stories of love lost, love found, love realized, friendship, and family. She doesn’t present it chronologically, though. She mixes up the years, sallying back and forth, giving a sense of characters’ relationships to each other, while theatergoers pick up fragments of each titled scene and piece them together, like a jigsaw puzzle - in an entertaining way.
Director Caroline L. Price uses few props, such as two chairs and a park bench, which the actors carry on and off stage as scenes change. Price’s period mood music and designer David Lucas’ lighting nicely punctuate each vignette.
Like the old vaudeville days, Price has a stand with placards announcing each of the nine scenes, which performers change as they exit. They also change their costumes in a darkened corner, where a lone coat rack holds Julie Dauber’s easy-wear costumes.
In the cozy, packed Plaza Black Box Theater, actors Laura Menzie, Angela Keefe, Joseph Kidawski and Brett Milanowski hover at times near theatergoers while they’re on stage or briefly waiting to start the next story. Their proximity creates emotionally charged reactions, especially as theatergoers relate to specific episodes.
The prologue opens outside a country club in 1945, with Mary Ellen sitting on a park bench; fast forwards to pre-teen-age best girlfriends, Annabelle (Laura Menzie) and Lenah (Angela Keefe), in 1989; checks out two best male friends, Seth (Joseph Kidawski) and David (Brett Milanowski) in 2001, who are horsing around with nerf guns in their apartment, but are separating, because David says he’s moving in with his controlling girlfriend, Annabelle,.
At a 2007 wedding reception, gawky self-conscious Lenah (Keefe) meets nerdy Christopher (Milanowski) and they strike up a romance; Maya Keefe) and Jeremy (Milanowski) kick off their sex-only, non-involved relationship, but realize they’re in love, in 2011; brothers Christopher (Milanowski) and Adam (Kidawski) meet in an upscale restaurant lobby in 1991, as Adam reveals painful truth about himself; and best friends, tomboy Kat (Menzie) and her pal Jack’s (Kidawski) breezy conversation at a neighborhood playground turns serious in 1969.
We fast-forward in time again, to 2006, and the apartment David (Milanowski) shares with unseen Emma, as former longtime girlfriend, Annabelle, (Menzie), retrieves a book she left with David three years ago, when they lived together. Their reunion is awkward, but friendly.
“Soul Mates” closes with Mary Ellen (Keefe) sitting on the same bench in 1945, waiting for her big crush, Edmund, (Milanowski) a handsome, poor caddy at her dad’s country club, to approach. She’s determined to jumpstart a romantic relationship with him.
Knisely’s weaving the characters together is clever. Thanks to this talented cast, every vignette has its own charm and merit, arousing happy, sad,and bittersweet reminiscences. And the characters and pieces suddenly fit together, in a satisfying, aha! ending.
BOX INFO: Boston Actors Theater presents the East Coast premiere of Kirsten Knisely’s romantic comedy, “Soul Mates,” through March 22, at the Boston Center for the Arts, Plaza Black Box Theater, 539 Tremont St., South End. Boston. Showtimes:March 20-22, Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday,2 p.m. Tickets, $25; seniors, students with valid IDs, $15. Visit www.bostontheatrescene.com or call 617-933-8600.