Geneva Anderson digs into art

Review: In Jordan Harrison’s “Maple and Vine,” a stressed out modern day couple chooses to live life like it’s 1955 again, at A.C.T. through Sunday, April 22, 2012

Married couple Katha (Emily Donahoe) and Ryu (Nelson Lee) are overwhelmed by the stresses of their modern lives in the West Coast premiere of Jordan Harrison's "Maple and Vine," playing at the American Conservatory Theater through Sunday, April 22, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

How much would you be willing to sacrifice for what you thought would lead to true happiness? In Jordan Harrison’s provocative comedy, Maple & Vine, which has its West Coast premiere at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), a young professional couple overwhelmed by the complexity and plentitude of the modern world find an unconventional exit—they join a community of 1950’s re-enactors, the “Society for Dynamic Obsolescence.”

The idea of leaving it all behind for simpler times is certainly intriguing but the play itself never rises to the level of engrossing drama.  The story unfolds simply—Emily Donohoe, as Katha, and Nelson Lee, as Ryu are representative of the young New York couple on the rise—she’s got a high-powered position in publishing that allows her the satisfaction of pushing around a few people and he’s a plastic surgeon.  He’s also Japanese –American.   On the surface, things look good, but Katha’s suffered a miscarriage that she can’t seem to recoup from, is no longer interested in sex and is just plain lost.  They meet another couple (Jameson Jones, as Dean, and Julia Coffey, as Ellen) who seem to have the joie de vivre and confidence that they lack and so crave.  Their secret—which they are happy to share—is that they have essentially checked of the modern world and live happily in a community where it’s always 1955.  After a few meetings, the idea grows of Katha.  At her urging, she and Ryu decide to swap their cell phones, sushi, lattes and stressed-out lives in Manhattan for rotary phones, fish sticks and Sanka by joining this community in the Midwest where life is slower, passion is risqué́, and a cocktail is a daily accessory.

SDO (Society for Dynamic Obsolescence) member Ellen (Julia Coffey, right) visiting new SDO recruit Katha (Emily Donohoe) in the West Coast premiere of Jordan Harrison’s “Maple and Vine,” at A.C.T. through April 22, 2012. Photo: Kevin Berne

Escapismit’s always lovely at first.  Katha—now Kathy—especially, enjoys her life as housewife.  It’s an implausible stretch to imagine that Ryu gets much out of his entry-level position as a box assembler at the local factory, but he goes along for the ride.  Of course, there’s a trade-off.   This meticulously recreated Ozzie and Harriet world is way beyond off-the grid.  Conformity is strictly enforced by an “authenticity committee” that meets regularly to ensure that disruptions from the real world are minimized.  Rigid retro attitudes about gender, race, and sexuality stir up powerful questions about how good the “good ole days” actually were.  Kathy and Ryu encounter pressure about their interracial marriage and, in her attempts to fit in, Kathy actually stirs the pot by encouraging more prejudice.

Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (SDO) members Ellen (Julia Coffey) and Dean (Jamison Jones) lead an orientation for new members in their community of 1955 reenactors in Jordan Harrison's “Maple and Vine,” at A.C.T. through April 22, 2012. Photo by Kevin Berne.

A potentially interesting subplot involving a homosexual affair between Ryu’s very bigoted boss and seemingly straight-laced Dean (who brought them into the community) takes off but doesn’t sufficiently land.  All in all, by the middle of the second act, the play has grown so implausible that it has become a farce and it ends without having sufficiently explored  the many complexities created by the conscious choice to check-out.

Set designer Ralph Funicello outdid himself with a splendid New York City backdrop that is expertly lit by Russell H. Champa.   The 1950’s clothing too, by Alex Jaeger, is to die for, especially the women’s dresses with their fitted bodies and flowing skirts and the elegance of heels.  Of course, we all know that under those dresses, enforcing the hourglass shape, are foundation garments that literally meld to the body.

Run-time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

Friday’s 50’s Dress-Up—the Drinks are on A.C.T.:  Come dressed head-to-toe in ’50s wear at the 8 p.m. Friday performances, and enjoy a free pre-show cocktail at the Geary Theatre’s third-floor Sky Bar. Limit: one free drink per ticketholder.  Valid only before the show at the third-floor Sky Bar.

A.C.T. Family Series Workshop: Saturday, Apr. 21, at 1 p.m.
A new theater experience for young adults and their families!  Meet before the 2 p.m. show for a lively, interactive workshop.  Please note: due to sexual situations and partial nudity, Maple and Vine is recommended for audiences ages 14 and up.

Details: Maple and Vine ends its limited engagement Sunday, April 22, 2012, at the American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. Performances: Tuesday–Saturday at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets (starting at $10) are available by calling the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or at

April 19, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SF MOMA Gallery Talk: Curator Lisa Sutcliffe on Rineke Dijkstra’s Beach Portraits, Thursday evening, April 19, 2012

Rineke Dijkstra, Hilton Head Island, S.C., USA, June 24, 1992; 1992; chromogenic print; 66 1/8 in. x 55 11/16 in.; Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York & Paris; © Rineke Dijkstra

One of the most highly regarded photographers of her generation, Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra is well known for her psychologically probing portraits of ordinary people in states of transition.  Her Beach Portraits, a very painterly series taken between 1992-1996, in which adolescents from all over—the U.K., Croatia, Poland, Ukraine—are posed alone against a background of sea and sky brought her immediate acclaim.  More than simply documenting a transitional moment, Dijkstra reveals a heightened tension in her subjects who are delicately poised on the edge of an unknown future.  These life-size photographs and videos, subtly colored, are celebrated for capturing the essential nature and complexities of growing up.  Taken as a group, these portraits reveal fascinating cultural differences and some universal similarities and allow us to draw some profound conclusions about how people react under a watchful eye.

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective, at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) through May 28, 2012, is the artist’s first midcareer retrospective in the United States, bringing together 70 of her large-scale color photographs, including many of the beach portraits, and five video installations, including two new video projections.  The exhibition is coorganized by SFMOMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and curated locally by Sandra Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography, SFMOMA.  On Thursday, April 19, 2012, Lisa Sutcliffe, assistant curator of photography, SFMOMA, will give a 20 minute gallery talk, sharing her perspective on one of Dijkstra’s portraits in her Beach Portraits series.  Meet in the Haas Atrium at 6:30 p.m. before moving into the galleries.  Free with museum admission.

video still from “I see a woman crying (the weeping woman),” Rineke Dijkstra, 2009
12’00” (loop), 3 channel HD video, color, sound, © Rineke Dijkstra , courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

If you go, be sure to watch her 12 minute video “I see a woman crying (the weeping woman)” (2009) which unfolds on three screens and is the first work in which she used the human voice.  Picasso’s “Weeping Woman” (1937), in the Tate Liverpool, was used as the talking point for a group of British schoolchildren who are filmed having a prolonged serious discussion about what they see in the painting.  To create the video, she set up three cameras on tripods and had the children look at a reproduction of the painting that was attached to the middle tripod, so none of them were looking straight into the camera lens but beyond it, at the image.   Unlike a conventional portrait in which the subject looks at the camera, the children here were engaged with each one another and thus disconnected from the viewer.  What they come up with and how they respond to each other’s remarks and begin to speculate on the woman’s emotional state and situation is truly fascinating.

Rineke Dijkstra, Almerisa, Asylum Center Leiden, Leiden, the Netherlands, March 14, 1994, 1994; chromogenic print; 49 3/16 in. x 41 5/16 in.; Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York & Paris; © Rineke Dijkstra

Also riveting is her series “Almerisa,” (1994-2008) a study in how a subject, in this case a 6-year-old Bosnian girl in a refugee center for asylum seekers in Leiden, Netherlands, changes over time.  When Dijkstra first photographed Almerisa in 1994, she was in her best and probably only dress, and posed lifelessly, almost like a rag doll, her feet dangling because they could not touch the floor.  Concerned about what had happened to her, Dijkstra found the family after they left the center and settled into life in the Netherlands and began photographing Almerisa every two years or so, completing 11 portraits of her sitting in a chair, that also captured her maturation into a young woman.  The final portrait captures Almerisa holding her own baby.  The orthodoxy in this powerful series is one of honesty rather than beauty.  The subject’s body and character are transitioning for many reasons that invite the viewer to embark on the same type of speculation that Dijkstra asked of the school children who encountered Picasso’s powerful portrait.

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective is the second of three shows at SFMOMA this year focusing on Female Pioneers of Photography.  The first was Francesca Woodman, September 5, 2011-February 20, 2012.  The third is Cindy Sherman, July-October, 2012.

Details: SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street, San Francisco, across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  General admission is $18—Thursday evenings admission is half-price. For more information, visit

April 19, 2012 Posted by | SFMOMA | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment