Ever since the 1950s ended, American society has had a love affair with the decade. It is not hard to believe that someone would want to live in the era, which seems simpler and fairer compared to today’s hectic pace. In Actor’s Express’ latest production Maple and Vine, written by Jordan Harrison, the mystique of that nostalgia is too much for one couple to resist.
When Katha (Kate Donadio) and Ryu (Michael Sung-Ho) become fed up with their lives and long for an escape from their tedious existence at a publishing company and a medical office, they begin to take interest in a gated community run by the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (SDO), a group of 1950s reenactors. They move from modern society to a place where it is always 1955.
Like in the movie The Village, everyone in the community chooses to live authentic to the period. Instead of living an 1800s lifestyle, those in the SDO have a more modern life, albeit one without the internet, multi-grain bread and cell phones. However, much like real life in the era, not everything is as rosy in the SDO as the picture the group wants to paint of it.
Under the direction of Kate Warner, the cast takes a disheveled script and creates an enjoyable and intriguing show even though they do not hit their full stride until the move to the SDO. At that point the humor and heart of the show begin to emerge.
Donadio’s take on the modern day Katha is good, but not memorable or special. Much of that is due to the script, which doesn’t allow her much room to show grief of her miscarriage or explore just what it is that makes her job so horrible. Yet, once she becomes her 1950s character, Donadio shines with a humorous, crafty take that is captivating.
Tiffany Morgan’s Ellen provides a nice balance to the show as the prim and proper housewife. She heads the authenticity committee and helps Katha and Ryu adapt to their new life. The depth she brings to the character is commendable, but it is her performance in her final scene with Donadio that is the highlight of the play. The emotion in the scene is heartbreaking, and it is truly a touching moment.
John Benzinger gives Dean, one of the authority figures of the community, an authentic persona, and he portrays the character’s duality well. The relationship with Roger (Jeremy Harrison) shows the era’s repressiveness as the two must hide their true selves after feeling their life was too easy in the modern day. This storyline is one that helps to bring out the idea that maybe the nostalgia for the past isn’t something that is all it is touted to be.
The play has an interesting concept, but the show’s pace is hampered by the quick shifts to a meeting where Benzinger and Morgan address prospective members of the SDO. These scenes give much needed background, but the piece meal structure isn’t entirely effective. Plus, the random narrator and dream sequence in the play’s second half also distract from the show.
A humorous, thought-provoking show, Maple and Vine plays at Actor’s Express through April 20, 2014. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show is approximately two hours with an intermission.
– Kenny Norton