MAPLE and VINE beautifully staged by A.C.T.

In her new home on the corner of Maple and Vine, Katha (Emily Donahoe) welcomes the day as a new member of the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (SDO)
. (Above) (SDO) members Ellen (Julia Coffey, center) and her husband, Dean (Jamison Jones), partake in an evening of cocktails and a lively game of charades with new SDO member Katha (Emily Donahoe) Photo by Kevin Berne.

MAPLE AND VINE: Comedy by Jordan Harrison and directed by Mark Rucker. American Conservatory Theater (ACT), 415 Geary St., San Francisco, CA. (415) 749-2228 or March 29 – April 22, 2012


Having reviewed the world premiere of Maple and Vine last year at the Humana New American Play Festival by Actors Theatre of Louisville, there was great expectation for the A.C.T. production. At Actors Theatre the play was mounted in the intimate four-sided Bingham theatre and was the hit of 2011 new plays. Here at the cavernous A.C.T. theatre the intimacy, and some of the dialog, was lost amongst the magnificent staging by Mark Rucker on Ralph Funicello’s fantastic scenic designs. Alex Jaeger’s costumes and Russell H. Chapmpa’s lighting will surely earn them Bay Area Critics nomination. While the staging makes this a must see production, the staging over-powers the play.

The play has a great premise and author Jordan Harrison has grasped the inner desire of many who are frustrated by modern technology and fast paced lives they live. What would it be like to return to a more peaceful time where an individual’s role is well defined, sidewalks are wide while streets are narrow, neighbors talk to each other and google has not been invented. Jordan conjectures that such a world would be like living in the 1950s.

Two burned-out New Yorkers take advantage of an invitation to join such a community (not to be called a cult) in an unspecified Midwestern location where it is always 1955. The women’s role is defined as the housekeeper, sorry “home keeper”; the men come home at five p.m. to waiting cocktails, home-cooked meals and no computers. Smoking, social drinking (as long as it is Smirnoff Vodka) and party games are de rigueur. Everything must be “authentic” and there is even an Authentication Committee to set the guidelines.

White Anglo-Saxon [?] Katha (Emily Donahue) is married to Japanese-American Ryu (Nelson Lee). She is a frustrated book editor in a state of depression following the miscarriage of her baby six months ago. He is a former inmate of the WW II internment camps for Japanese and a successful plastic surgeon that is unfulfilled beautifying upper-class women. They are conned by smooth talking Dean (Jamison Jones) to explore this utopian enclave run by the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (SDO).

They move into a house at Maple and Vine, dress in typical 1950’s attire, and settle into a normal 1955 daily routine. Ryu is assigned to assembling boxes in a factory. All is not peaches and cream since maintaining authenticity includes conformity in dress and life style and racism directed to Ryu,. Katha adjusts to the daily routine, even embracing it, especially when she fulfills the true role of a woman when she becomes pregnant.

Throughout the first act Dean and his sprightly wife Ellen (Julia Coffey) address the audience directly as if they are recruits for membership in the SDO. By doing this author Harrison cleverly avoids the use of exposition and allow the scene changes to move smoothly accompanied by appropriate 1950s music. There is a modicum of thoughtful ideas that are a bit urbane but will set your mind thinking about Harrison’s inherent premise that, for his characters, life in 1955 is the ideal.

After setting up the plot line, act two comes to life with some brilliant lines eliciting spontaneous laughter. He then springs a plot twist of homophobia that invades the seemingly perfect marriage and dedicated role playing of the ideal 1955 couple of Ellen and Dean. You will have to suspend belief and not be picky about the holes in the basic premise to fully enjoy this show, but be assured the total package is well worth the 2 hours and 20 minute running time that includes an intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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