From the Garden of Eden, where the forbidden fruit is popularly represented as an apple, to Sir Isaac Newton's lightbulb moment, when he supposedly came up with the law of gravity after being bonked on the head by an apple, the fruit of the genus Malus has storied meaning in our culture.
With "Bina's Six Apples," playwright Lloyd Suh argues for another riff from this tree of knowledge. In Suh's big-hearted play that had its world premiere Friday at Minneapolis' Children's Theatre Company, the fruits are a source of wonder and nourishment. They exert a power like magic beads. And they help keep a resilient, smart and resourceful 10-year-old on the path to a hoped-for family reunion.
Well-acted and affecting, "Bina's" is set in 1950 in a Korea torn by war when a fearful father calls out in darkness for his daughter. He finds her sitting under an apple tree as the lights come up. Father (Albert Park) tells Bina (Olivia Lampert) that the war is getting closer and the family must leave immediately for a two-day trip by foot to Busan, the port city 70 miles south that's also known as Pusan.
Bina is reluctant.
"I hate the ocean," Bina tells him.
"You love the ocean!" Father replies.
"I hate Busan," Bina continues.
"You've never even seen it."
"I hate war."
Out of rejoinders, Father falls silent for a few beats, then fumbles for words.
"I, do, too, Bina."
That telling triptych captures the poetic tone of Suh's deceptively simple one-act, which runs for 75 minutes. Although this original must-see work takes place at the Children's Theatre, you don't need a child companion as an excuse to see it. Take your adult self with a (vaccinated and masked) friend or two.
The design elements all help to evoke the emotions and world of the play. The action takes place on Jiyoun Chang's spare set that's made up of gray wall panels with props wheeled in on hand carts, all of which are also lit by Chang. Junghyun Georgia Lee designed the drab, olive-tinged costumes and Fabian Obispo did the music and sound design.
Director Eric Ting stages "Bina's" with propulsive but spare lyricism that matches Suh's elegant writing. And movement director Marcela Lorca's refugee pageant helps to create a tableau of displacement.
"Bina's" is as much play as fable. The half-dozen apples that the child carries in her backpack, each intended for a family member in the fleeing party, bear metaphorical weight. The fruits also exert a pull on the people Bina encounters after a bomb blast separates her from her family.
A gifted young actor, Lampert uses expert timing and total self-possession to invest the title character with both youthful innocence and wisdom. She nails her monologues, including a remarkable one at a river crossing.
Bina is determined and kind and Lampert plays her with the calm assurance of a youngster born with an old soul. That equanimity is an excellent choice as the character negotiates a landscape studded with moral and amoral characters who are all dealing with the effects of war.
That cast of characters (and they really are characters) include a single-minded merchant whose love language is buying, selling and trading. That role is played by pitch-perfect Sun Mee Chomet, who also doubles as Mother.
Bina also encounters a deserter who is full of secrets (Joseph Pendergrast, who is engaging in an 18-minute scene) as well as a droll boatman (Park, in his second major role).
As is clear, most of the cast members play multiple roles, including helping to change scenes by pushing carts. Chomet invests Bina's Mother with war-weariness and patience as she carries what she can on a long, weight-distributing pole on her shoulders.
Also carrying things as Bina's family members are Pendergrast as brother Jinsoo, Shelli Delgado as sister Youngsoo, and Elizabeth Pan as Hamee, the grandmother whose load is wisdom.
Actor Jayden Ham plays Boy, a shaking, stimming youngster waiting for his mother to return to a village that's been destroyed.
It is a compelling bit in a show that does not dwell in the darkness in which it began. Instead, "Bina's," which travels to Atlanta's Alliance Theatre after its Minneapolis run, finds resolution and heartwarming light.
'Bina's Six Apples'
Who: By Lloyd Suh. Directed by Eric Ting.
When: 7 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 11 a.m. & 3 p.m. Sat., 1 & 5 p.m. & Sun. Ends Feb. 13.
Where: Children's Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls.
Protocol: Masks required for ages 2 and up. Vaccination cards or proof of negative COVID-19 test for ages 12 and up.
Tickets: $15-$68. 612-874-0400 or childrenstheatre.org.