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
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.
Escapism—it’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.
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 act-sf.org.
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