By Robert Simonson
23 May 2012
|Photo by O&M Co.|
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Question: In the ornamental false proscenium of Peter and the Starcatcher on Broadway, a giant pineapple looms over the action. There is also a pineapple prop in the play. Is there a greater significance to this fruit? What am I missing? — M.V.O., Amherst, MA.
When Playbill.com first received this quizzical query, the first thing that occurred to us is the spiky, yellow fruit's long history of joyful symbolism. The image of the pineapple has for centuries served as a totem of welcome and hospitality. Walk around the older quarters of New York City, or any old American city, and you see the pineapple profile everywhere, most notably etched in doorway lintels and sitting atop gateposts on either side of a front door. In the 18th and 19th centuries, pineapple figures would be carved on the headboards and bedposts of beds in guestrooms. The fruit was the ultimate "Howdy do" a host could offer their visitors.
"The pineapple is a universal symbol of welcome," confirmed Starcatcher co-director Roger Rees, "and New England sea captains would put a pineapple on their front stoop when they returned from the south seas to welcome their friends and community to their home."
Sailing the seven seas as they did, sea captains would have been among the first to be exposed early on to the fruit, which is native to South America, and later became a cash crop in Hawaii. In 1493, Columbus found the fruit on the island of Guadaloupe and carried it back to Spain. From there, it was a steady presence on sailing ships that were always looking for a way to combat scurvy. As much of the action in Starcatcher takes place on ships, the pineapples make thematic sense.
(On stage at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, the "lost boy" known as Ted, played by David Rossmer, tussles with a pineapple in the story's island setting. We won't reveal what happens.)
Rees' collaborator Rick Elice, who authored the stage adaptation, said, "Pineapples were the iPads of their day, highly prized, very expensive — because they came from only one place, very far away." He added, "This is why there's a whole song about pineapples in Cabaret, where it is treasured as the ultimate gift of love."