- Photo by Angela Roell
Johnny Appleseed was a real person, though his actual name was John Chapman (1774-1845). A cross between Thoreau and Nature Boy, he was an eccentric wanderer who became a legend in his own time, partly because of his obsession with planting apple orchards on the Ohio, Indiana and Illinois frontier. He often went without shoes and wore secondhand clothes.
He's the central character in The Pomology of Sweetness and Light, a remarkable "puppet operetta" recently staged at the Studio at Colton School by the Black Forest Fancies and Aurora Aerial company.
Although it sounds poetic, "pomology," derived from the Latin word for apple, is a horticultural term for the cultivation of tree fruit. But it's the development of a romance between the aging Appleseed and a 12-year-old girl he took on as a ward that pulls the operetta towards tragic inevitability. After years of following and helping Chapman, the girl falls for a boy her own age.
Pomology saught to capture the mythic aura of Appleseed and the real failed relationship. In plain view, company members dressed in black manipulated large puppets while elegant aerialists performed overhead, wrapping themselves sensually and expressively on long looping drapes, often to live accompaniment of mournful music played on violin or cello just behind the puppets in a sort of yurt. The aerial ballet was only tenuously connected to the story, but it added an evocative, fanciful dimension.
Pandora Andrea Gastellum and Nina C. Nichols founded Black Forest Fancies puppet theater and wrote, designed and directed Pomology. They also worked some of the puppets, along with Amanda Stone, Liron Dan and Raven Hinojosa. Aurora Aerial featured performers Hinojosa, Andrea Duhe and Elena Brocade. The original music was composed and played by Stix Duh Clown, Jesse Stoltzfus and Alleyn Evans. I look forward to seeing the next phantasmagoria this bold theatrical coven conjures up for us. — Dalt Wonk