Mark Stein’s Bad Apples poses a deep, philosophical question in a way your college philosophy professor never could-with humor.
“Underneath [the basic plot] what are really percolating are issues regarding the basis of our moral compass,” Stein said of his most recent work. “Is there really something called right and wrong, or is it something more free floating? And, if it’s free floating, then on what basis do we decide if this is the right thing to do or the wrong thing?”
Stein’s Bad Apples is directed by Ovation Award winner Nick DeGruccio and premieres at Ventura’s Rubicon Theatre on Thursday, August 16.
If Stein’s questions seem like pretty heady stuff for a summer night out at the theater, be assured that Bad Apples is sexy, comical, and intriguingly subversive entertainment, not part of that lecture series you slept through during your sophomore year of college. It features a host of characters so bad they’re good, forcing audience members to challenge their own morality by convincing them to cheer for the bad guys. In this way, Stein adds humanity and passion to the more abstract questions about right and wrong.
“It began as a sort of experiment into what happens when you seduce the audience into rooting for the bad guys,” Stein said, noting he got the idea from a personal experience with a novel. Realizing he was not the first writer to embrace this concept, Stein said it eventually morphed into a “passionate adventure.”
“I became interested in the question, ‘How do people get to that place where they truly think what they are doing is right?'” Stein said, noting the example of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
That is the most extreme example, to which Stein still has no answer. But for anyone who has ever wondered, “When is it okay to betray my buddy and sleep with his wife?” the play may offer some insight, as well as an introspective glance at one’s own ideas of morality and methods of justification.
Bad Apples opens with a seemingly normal suburban couple, Peg (Precious Chong) and Brook (Eric Lange), standing over a decidedly abnormal hole in the middle of their house, which their friend Eddie (Patrick Hallahan) is digging. The goal? Springing Eddie’s lover out of jail. Drama and comedy alike ensue as their neighbor, Ida (Clarinda Ross), finds out what is going on. Throughout the show, alliances shift, motives change, passions fly, and the relationships between the characters test normal moral boundaries. The audience is swept up and taken prisoner by this gang of criminals, who defy all that is “right” but, in some perverse way, become more lovable because of it.
Chong said her character is particularly endearing, despite having been a criminal since high school. Peg is unsure whether she has made the right decisions in life and is insecure about her intelligence, said Chong, and she relies on her sexuality to get what she wants until she discovers later in the play that she has a real knack for law. Most of all, Peg “enjoys her life and is sort of funny by accident,” Chong said. “The most fun part about her is she doesn’t have rules. It’s fun to play a character who can sort of push the boundaries in a way I can’t in real life.”
Stein added that Chong has a naturally sexy presence onstage and slips in and out of comedy flawlessly, creating a truly memorable character in Peg.
Bad Apples will be the fifth premiere of the year at the Rubicon Theatre, and it is the second play Stein has introduced there. The other, Mating Dance of the Werewolf, was coproduced by the Rubicon Theatre and the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg in 2004. Chong lent her acting talents to that production as well, and met her husband in the process. Bad Apples marks her return to the stage after two years, during which she had a child. Now living in Toronto, Chong said she enjoys coming back to Ventura, especially during the summertime. “This is my fifth Rubicon production and I really like working at this theater and in Ventura,” she said.
Stein echoed her thoughts, saying, “I personally have never worked at any theater as amazing as the Rubicon in that it is so small and therefore kind of intimate in the way they stage a play, [and in] how decisions are made, relationships are made.” He added that the theater attracts high-quality actors and directors that many small theaters cannot, possibly due to its premium location between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.
Audiences are fortunate, then, that director DeGruccio and his cast of charismatic criminals have found a home at the Rubicon in what proves to be a mind-twisting, conscience-testing, and highly entertaining night of comedy.
Bad Apples previews August 16 and 17 and officially pre-mieres on Saturday, August 18 at 7 p.m. at the Rubicon Theatre (1006 E. Main St., Ventura). Performances continue through September 9. For tickets and information, call 667-2900 or visit rubicontheatre.org.