Molly's Delicious

The acting of all three is grounded in the clearest, simplest truths of their character's youthful emotions.

Molly's Delicious

Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St., through Nov. 9, 922-8900.

In case you're wondering, "Molly's Delicious" is a variety of apple. Born from the love of an apple breeder for his girlfriend, it has (a character in Minnesota-based playwright Craig Wright's new play tells us) the highest sugar content of any variety of apple in the United States.

Wright's Molly's Delicious at the Arden, like the apple, is sweet without being cloying, as crisp as the fall air in Minnesota, and at times as shimmering and as magical as the northern lights.

It's 1965. Alison (Maggie Siff) is pregnant by her boyfriend Jerry (who's now in Vietnam with the Coast Guard, right before the first big troop escalation), and she's been packed off by her parents in Connecticut to live with her Aunt Cindy (Marcia Saunders) and her apple-growing Uncle Lindy (Tom Teti) in northern Minnesota. Doubting that Jerry will ever return, Cindy tries to set Alison up with Alec (David Bardeen), a young undertaker.

The play begins and ends with folksy scenes of quaint Scandinavian-Minnesotans, spouting dramatic exposition, along with quaint expletives ("oh cheese and rice!") and a few too many stories about a few too many quaint Scandinavian-Minnesotan neighbors.

But then Alec, in his black suit and flowers in hand, comes on the scene to court Alison, and the play really springs to life. It's a long, delicately written scene, charmingly played by Bardeen and Siff. Alison seethes with anger and resentment ("I am a wild animal," she tells her aunt); Alec fumbles. But somehow the kindling starts to catch fire, and the two find connections with, and give voice to, first their secret aspirations, and, finally, their love. It's delicious.

The unexpected arrival of Jerry (Ian Merrill Peakes) pumps up the volume, the energy and the comedy, almost to the breaking point. But soon the play's lovely wistfulness returns, winding down into a charming scene with Alec, Alison and Jerry sitting side by side on a bench, talking about embalming, eating apples, watching the aurora borealis, and knowing, individually and together, that life is never what you expect, and that everything in life is possible. The writing is lovely; and the acting of all three is grounded in the clearest, simplest truths of their characters' youthful emotions.

Aaron Posner directs with a deft hand, rarely bobbling, and never letting the delicate and brittle material drop to the floor and shatter. The autumnal setting is by Chris Pickart, the lighting by Drew Billiau, and Lindy's apples (10,000 of them by the first frost, he boasts) are supplied by Linvilla Orchards.

-Cary M. Mazer