By Selena Puente
If you found yourself quickly thumbing through the Iliad or the Odyssey to discover what adventure lay ahead for hot-headed Achilles or swashbuckling Odysseus, then you should definitely go check out “The Golden Apple,” a musical re-telling of the Iliad and the Odyssey that will grace the Irving Arts Center stage from Oct. 24 to Nov. 2.
The musical is set in early 20th century Washington, in a small town aptly called Angel’s Roost where Helen is a poor farmer’s daughter, Menelaus is a bum sheriff, Paris is a kooky traveling salesman and Odysseus is a returning soldier from his service in the Spanish-American War. The musical opens with Helen sitting atop a ladder and leaning gingerly on an apple tree, fallen fruit rolling around her feet. Mount Olympus stands bravely in the background. Helen laments about how boring it is to be a farmer’s daughter and to live in Angel’s Roost:
“Nothing ever happens in Angel’s Roost / The culture hereabouts is in a fog / The only books we crack / Are the Farmer’s Almanack / The Scriptures and Sears Roebuck catalogue.”
Act 1 continues to follow the plot of the Iliad, and Paris makes his entrance in an extravagant hot air balloon that the townspeople assume could only be the moon reaching down to touch them. In true Paris attention-hog fashion, this traveling salesman lands in the middle of the town’s great event: a highly competitive apple-pie contest.
As the time passes with dancing and potato sack races, Paris takes advantage of the situation. He whisks Helen away in his hot air balloon and trouble ensues. The whimsical nature of the musical is maintained throughout Act 2 when Hector appears as a mayor and Calypso comes to wreak havoc.
One can perfectly picture this reimagined Hector — clean-cut, pristine in a navy blue suit and with the quintessential amiable nature of a Golden Boy, especially against the lavish re-working of Calypso. She emerges as a renowned, champagne-sipping social queen (and don’t forget, nymph!) whose business is strictly regulated to throwing parties and stirring scandal. She enters with diamonds cascading from her ears and down her neck, her hair wild about her face. Hector sings boisterously behind her:
“Haven’t you heard / Of Madame Calypso? / The nympho megalo ego dipso Maniac / who sets the pace in / Rhododendron? / You’ve seen her face in / The social columns and front page scandals / Oh, she’s the hostess who only handles / Big Names (both the Best and Worst Names) / Call celebrities by their first names.”
Meanwhile, the sirens dance about like fashionable henchmen and attempt to utilize the same intoxicating influence they have in the Odyssey. The musical strives to follow the timeless plotlines of Homer’s epics. It also adds something more to the stories. It instills tenderness into the characters, making them feel more human than they might appear in a first reading of these epics. Penelope is the most delicate of these characters, her cheerless thoughts and emotions preserved in “The Sewing Bee,” which is a standout in the musical. She gingerly inspects the quilt she has spent ten years making and softly reminisces in song:
“Into this quilt I’m weaving / Our life that went astray / This bit of faded cotton / Is from his working shirt / And I’d almost forgotten / This silk from my Sunday skirt / Here’s a scrap of ribbon / I borrowed to wear on the day we wed / Here’s a square of linen / From the pillow of our marriage bed.”
Just as in the epic, Penelope literally weaves her sorrows away and transforms them into something that will truly comfort others. As the musical progresses, the overall spirit lifts and it ends in a splendid celebration with joyous, angelic singing:
“It’s the going home together / Through the changing years / It’s the talk about the weather / And the laughter and the tears.”
It is a friendly reminder to enjoy the adventures of life, and to see that the real thrill of living is living with others.
If you cannot attend the regular showings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., then there are two matinee showings at 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 26, and Nov. 2. Tickets are $25, but student discounts may be available if you call the box office.
This musical is well-worth the money. It is rarely performed and its charm and wit are only matched by the ingenuity of its re-working along with the sweetness and hilarity of its setting. I guarantee that the gods will smile upon you if you make the time to check out this Homeric hootenanny. Most importantly, it communicates essential life lessons: Always remember — never run away with a traveling salesman in a hot air balloon, and never trust men known for their cunning quality. You’ll either start a war, or wait 10 years. The choice is yours.