"Maple and Vine" by Jordan Harrison is the story of a wife and husband who are more than frustrated by modern life, they're harried, isolated and genuinely unhappy. But, when a well-dressed stranger with a hat and a briefcase invites them to relocate to a special gated community where it's perpetually 1955.
"Maple and Vine" follows Katha, played by Robin Abramson and her Japanese husband Ryu, played by Nelson Lee (who also played the character at A.C.T. in San Francisco). As their normal-era selves, Abramson and Lee seem almost come across as desensitized to their real world (but not necessarily first-world) problems. It's not that they're smiling through the pain, but rather slightly bemused by the simultaneous oppression and isolation of their modern-day life.
Abramson and Lee in their 2012 New York City apartment are modern day "free" - they order in, they sit on the back of sofas, they have oral sex and wear poly-blends - but they're still anything but happy. Dean, the man with the hat, introduces the couple to the "S.D.O.", the 1955 Society of Deliberate Obsolescence where people create their dossier (in concordance with 1955's politics and history, of course) and start living the life of a beatnik, milkman or, as most women in the day, a housewife.
When Abramson and Lee enter the S.D.O., it seems more like a game than the last act of two desperate humans on the brink. And while, in essence, they are everyone in the audience - better educated, more socially aware, able to rise above social oppression and racism - what is fascinating is how easily and well the couple switches to the 1955's game. Stereotypes are embraced as jokes, domestic fights are applauded and blackmail is attempted.
But the game does change for the current residents. Greg McFadden, a charmer from the second he steps onto the stage, plays Dean, one of the pillars of the communities. Caralyn Kozlowski is his statuesque Stepford-like wife Ellen who brims with a carefully controlled power beneath a flawless exterior of button wrist gloves and pot roast. Ross Beschler, who juxtaposes a modern and 1955's version of a homosexual with alternating humor and realism, gives a real voice to the pain of repression. All give tremendous performances that overflow with humanity once the 1950's veneer is shattered, or eroded, away.
While the 1950's are pictured today as a simpler, nicer, better time, the world isn't a brainwashing operation. Once inside, you live and partake everyday as a human being in the 1955 microcosm - complete with all the complexities and secrets that were kept hidden behind the floral-print curtains. The costumes by Robert C.T. Steele are deliciously flawless with all the beautiful constraints of the inherent in the un-budging fabrics. Under Kip Fagan's direction the work is funny, tender and an honest study of what we will do to achieve happiness.
Tickets for "Maple and Vine" can be purchased here: http://citytheatre.culturaldistrict.org/production/33010/
The Eponymous Theatre Critic is involved in a life-long role-playing game where players involve themselves in key positions in society and seek to disrupt the normal, American way of life by enhancing our dogma. The game is called: Veganism.