Jennifer Summerfield previews the NYC premiere of ‘Out of the Apple Orchard’ at Actors Temple Theatre

Born in California, raised in Wyoming, trained at Smith College, in Paris, and NYC, where she spent a total of five years before relocating to Philadelphia, actress Jennifer Summerfield has been focusing her career on theatrical productions adapted from works of literature, having appeared in such classics as Homer’s Odyssey, Kafka’s The Trial, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Jennifer Summerfield in Yellow Wallpaper. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Summerfield’s upcoming show brings her back to New York, for her role in the NYC premiere of Out of the Apple Orchard, presented by The Mesaper Theatre for a limited engagement at Actors Temple Theatre. Based on the award-winning book of the same name by Yvonne David and adapted for the stage by Ellen W. Kaplan as part of the “Apple Tree Series,” the play – which also takes its inspiration from Joseph Stein’s Fiddler on the Roof (itself based on Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman) and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – is set in 1910, when the Biemans, a Jewish immigrant family escaped from Lithuania, moves from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the Catskills’ hamlet of Mountaindale for the fresh country air. Twelve-year-old Adam is hungry, his father is too sick to work, and food is scarce, so he can’t resist the ripe red apples he sees in the orchard on his way to school. But as a result of his decision to feed himself and his family, trouble ensues, and he must make up for his mistake to find forgiveness, human compassion, and a new beginning.

I spoke with Jennifer about the show, her role in it, and her return to NYC, as rehearsals were underway for the opening on September 10.

Jennifer Summerfield. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

How did you become involved in Out of the Apple Orchard?

Jennifer: I had worked on a college production of Dancing at Lughnasa with director Nicole Raphael over 20 years ago. We’ve maintained contact with each other over the years and watched each other’s career paths from afar. A year ago, Nicole sent me part of the script, written by a Smith theater professor and mentor Ellen Kaplan, and invited me to audition once all the production dates were in place. I jumped at the chance, not only because of my admiration for Ellen and Nicole, but because of the beauty of the story and creativity of the adaptation.

What do you find most compelling about the story?

There’s such a universality to the story, especially here in a country created by and made up of immigrants. It’s a story of survival through the help and love of community and I find that so beautiful, particularly as interpreted through the poetry and dream-like imagery of the play.

Is there a target audience or age for the show, since it’s focused on the experience of a young boy?

While the play centers around the twelve-year-old protagonist, because it’s such an ensemble-driven production, it truly is a family show, where every character has their moment to take focus. I think no matter what age you are, there are going to be things that move you and make you reminisce about your own life and the people who have made you who you are.

Jennifer Summerfield. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Which character do you portray and what are her most relatable qualities?

I play multiple roles, which is something I’ve always enjoyed doing as a performer – finding a way to differentiate between characters through movement and vocal quality. My primary role is as Mrs. Friedland, the wife of the farmer and orchard owner. Her love and care for her husband, as well as her skills at diplomacy and being the rational voice in the midst of chaos, are things that draw me to her and that I think the audience will relate to.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?

I hope the audience learns something, as I have during this process, about a point in our history not often discussed, and that they come away with a new appreciation for what immigrants have contributed and continue to contribute to the fabric of our culture – from food to art to language, and so much more.

What is most rewarding about working at the historic Actors Temple Theatre?

When I first stepped into the space, I held my breath. It has such a sense of history and beauty in every corner. The stained-glass windows and photographs of prominent Jewish entertainers on the walls give me such a feeling of awe and a sense that I am a part of this long tradition of storytelling and have been invited into a culture I deeply admire and respect.

Actors Temple Theatre. Photo by Jennifer Summerfield.

 How does it feel to be back in NYC? Can we expect to see more of you here?

Yes, please! I haven’t lived in NYC for many years, but reacquainting myself with its walks and landmarks feels like coming home and has energized me enormously. I feel like I wear a constant grin on my face.

Thanks, Jen, for making time during your busy rehearsal schedule to give our readers a preview of the show. I look forward to seeing it in September!

Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, without intermission.

Illustration by Lyn Rodden.

Out of the Apple Orchard plays September 10-14, 2023, at Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced a $38.50-$90.50, including fees), go online. Masks are not required.


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