APPLE by Vern Thiessen, directed by Ken Gass, with Kevin Hanchard, Niki Landau and Sarah Orenstein. Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Previews begin Saturday (October 14), opens October 19 and runs to November 12, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday (except October 15 at 7 pm) and November 11 at 2 pm. $25-$35.50, Sunday pwyc-$20, previews $12. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNNN
Kevin Hanchard's ready to take a big bite out of Apple.
Award-winning Alberta playwright Vern Thiessen's script is an open-hearted look at an extramarital affair that develops more than the usual problems.
The passion has gone out of Andy and Evelyn's marriage when he meets Samantha, who rekindles Andy's ardour. But then Evelyn becomes seriously ill, and Andy's conflicting loyalties exacerbate the situation.
"Andy's a man I never want to be but sometimes feel I am," acknowledges Hanchard, who this summer played one of the two Antipholus twins in CanStage's The Comedy Of Errors. "He's a guy who lets his life live him, and doesn't take a stand on the direction he wants to go.
"As a result, he finds himself in a passionless, loveless marriage that's lasted 16 years. But love's buried there, beneath the layers of the everyday, the mundane things that have made the couple forget why they got together in the first place."
On the verge of leaving his wife and choosing his own path, Andy must face her illness and think about saying what he really feels.
"He's in a really tough place. I see Andy as a good person, not a womanizer or someone looking for an affair. When he's about to tell Evelyn his true feelings, his heart, his priorities are in the right place. He knows what he has to do.
"And maybe that's what he's been doing his whole life, what he feels is right. But now that way of living takes on a different quality, since the stakes are ratcheted up several points.
"That part of the wedding vows that talks about "in sickness and in health' becomes very present for him."
The feelings wrapped up in Apple have clearly touched audiences to the core. The play has been a success across the country and is currently in a three-year rep production in Poland. Playwright Thiessen's had other successes, too, including winning the Governor General's Award for Einstein's Gift, which premiered last year off-Broadway.
The Toronto production of Apple gives the talented Hanchard a chance to expand his work in contemporary drama. He's performed in Blue/Orange, playing a man enmeshed in the British psychiatric system, but also has a background in classical theatre, has done a stint at Second City and helped bring a number of black dramas to life, including Andrew Moodie's The Real McCoy and Riot and George Boyd's Consecrated Ground.
"It's important to tell black stories," he affirms, "and I really notice it when I do talkbacks after performances. People admit they didn't know who inventor Elijah McCoy was, or that the number of blacks in British mental institutions is exponentially higher than other groups.
"That's why we tell these stories; the more we share, the better we understand ourselves and others."
And how does work at Second City connect with Hanchard's other theatre gigs?
"I didn't know what was happening at first," he says, flashing a great smile. "I'd never aspired to working there, but my agent got me an audition and I got a role in What Fresh Mel Is This? It was 1998 and I hadn't done much professionally.
"Here I was, the dramatic actor I fancied myself, working with people like Bob Martin and Marc Hickox, with Colin Mochrie hanging around backstage. I loved the scripted part of the show, but everyone else was racing through it to get to the improv at the end.
"The improvs intimidated me," he laughs, "but I learned I just had to jump in and say the hell with it. After all, it's just acting, not rocket science or brain surgery. I told myself, "Just take it as far as possible and have fun. '"