Friday, December 9, 2011

Maple and Vine: Imagined Life in 1955

Maple and Vine at Playwrights Horizons offers the audience an interesting premise--why would people today choose to live in a recreated 1955 world.

In this show, Katha and her husband Ryu have suffered the loss of a baby.  In her grief, Katha stumbles upon a community set up to recreate life in 1955.  She talks her husband into moving to this community--a community that is obsessed with "authenticity."  The community will remain in 1955 even as time moves on.  Everything about their life in 1955 will be recreated.  Of course, the original appeal to Katha is a simpler life.  Where men are men and women are women and we aren't trying to have it all.  We are currently drowning in information and freedom, maybe a little structure would do us good.  They are led to the community by Dean and Ellen who are the picture perfect couple of life in 1955 and leaders of the community. 

The show left me wondering a lot about these characters and their motivations.  In particular, why an interracial couple would want to go back to life in 1955.  Ryu is Japanese-American.  In his 1955 life, he is forced to adopt a personal storyline that involves the Japanese internment.  A former plastic surgeon, he goes to work in a 1955 box factory.  He is also subject to outright racism and xenophobia circa 1955.  His wife, strangely, in her quest for authenticity, actually demands more intolerance toward her and her husband in this community. 

It's a fascinating conceit.  Even if totally unbelievable, it asks some compelling questions about why people are struggling in today's society and what they think they could get out of life in another time. I think we all have a period of time where we imagine we'd travel to if we could.  I have always had a weird affinity for the 1930's (Having just drunkenly watched Lost in Austen* with @thecraptacular, @Scamandalous and @PataphysicalSci, one thing we could all agree on is time travel is all well and good BUT it should allow for tampons and toothpaste to come with you no matter what).

The actual performances in Maple and Vine were a mixed bag.  Marin Ireland as Katha (who becomes Kathy in 1955) conveys the depression of a disconnected, modern woman and the transformation into a "happy" 1955 housewife with great veracity.  Trent Dawson plays perpetually smiley Dean, "perfect" leader of the community who is carrying a secret.  He does the salesman pitch very well.  He is given less time to explore the other aspects of his personality which was a little disappointing to me.  Jeanine Serralles was sharp as Ellen, the "perfect" 1955 wife.  When secrets spill out, her fractured facade was very powerful and convincing.  But alas, again she didn't get as much stage time as I would have liked to display her struggle.  Pedro Pascal as Roger was fantastic.  Oh my god.  Put him in everything and maybe also let him be naked.  Seriously, he was an intense character who is a catalyst for change in the 1955 community.  His performance, balanced between creepy, sexy and desperate, was really strong.  Peter Kim as Ryu was the weakest of the bunch, turning in a very one note performance.  His motivations and journey were not clear through the writing and his performance did not clarify that either.

The monologues by Dean and Ellen done in a faux-sales pitch were unnecessary.  I think the show would have been more engaging if we'd just jumped right into the action with a little less of this sales-pitch veneer.  The staging was a little too complicated and it took about 30 minutes for an intermission so they could build a set for the second Act. 

The play left me with more questions than answers.  I found it to be a fascinating subject, but a less fascinating play.  I would have liked them to have spent more time on life in 1955 and less time in the set up for them getting there.  Maybe I wanted to see more of this 1955 world than a play could provide.  I wanted to know more about this "community" but we were limited to the 5 characters in the play.  Although the relationships between these characters are driving the plot, the atmosphere and the world of 1955 re-inactors would have been a fascinating subject matter to explore.  Is it a compliment or a complaint that I want to see this play turned into a movie?

The playwright, Jordan Harrison, definitely caught my attention and presented an intriguing premise, even if the play in the end did not deliver.

*It's a miniseries about a modern woman obsessed with Pride and Prejudice who somehow is able to enter the world of the book through a door in her shower.  And it's not as she imagined it would be at all.  And she really misses toothpaste.   It stars Tom Riley (who we love), Tom Mison (who we love), Elliot Cowan (who we love) and some girls.

**DISCLOSURE:  I received a complimentary ticket to attend this production in previews.

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