Maple and Vine

Maple and Vine by Jordan Harrison
Maple and Vine by Jordan Harrison

Directed by Damon Kiely

At Next Theatre, Evanston

“Where the gold old days really that good?”

Flawed premise dilutes yearning for the simpler times of the 1950’s.

Playwright Jordan Harrison’s Maple and Vine is a tad hard to swallow – that a modern 2011 couple – her a high-powered business executive and he a medical doctor would voluntarily leave their contemporary lives to the simpler lives of the 1950’s. Really? They feel unfulfilled and seem trapped by all the impersonal gadgets and fast-paced lifestyle of the world of 2011. Add the loss of their newborn and Katha (Molly Glynn) and Ryu (Peter Sipla)  feel distant and estranged to each other and the world they occupy.

Maple and Vine by Jordan Harrison

So when Katha abruptly quits her job, she sits on a park bench pondering her future, she meet a guy, Dean (Lawrence Grimm) who dressed like a ‘throw-back to the 50’s – gray vested suit and fedora hat complete with black briefcase.  He asks for directions and he and Katha strike up a conversation that eventually ends up with Dean pitching his SDO (Society of Dynamic Obsolescence). This is a  place-a gated community- where it’s permanently 1955. With hints of the movie “Pleasantville, ” Maple and Vine is just too much to accept. Everyone lives in exacting detail just as folks did in 1955 – no credit cards, no Internet, no  cell phones, no birth-control pill,  no modern medicine, no microwaves. Folks dressed semi-formally – women in dressed, men in jackets and ties.

Maple and Vine by Jordan Harrison

I was eleven years old in 1955 and I can attest that it was a nice time to live but I’d sure never want to go back to that stilted, bigoted and closeted time where men did all the ‘bread-winning’ and women were merely ‘housewives’ in a perpetual smile as they slaved away in the kitchen. Women hardly drove cars, almost never worked and spent their days changing dyers and cooking. Men worked in manufacturing or offices all day, came home, ate dinner and sat on the couch watching TV. Boring. They dreams little dreams and they aspired for little. It was a time of conservative non-thinking that found “I like Ike” as their mantra.  Thank God for the liberating 1960’s!

Maple and Vine by Jordan Harrison

Playwright Harrison offers not enough motivation for Katha and Ryu to drop their contemporary lives for the degrading life of 1955 that finds Katha as a housewife and Ryu (a Japanese-American) relegated as a factory worker who assembles cardboard boxes. Really? I just can’t see how a high-powered doctor would let racial discrimination lower him to being an ensemble line worker. Why? Because his wife talked him into it?

Then once living in the SDO, the problems of the 1955 emerge: bigotry, repressed sexuality, boredom and stilted social mobility. We see Dean and Ellen’s marriage unfold yet Katha and Ryu grow tighter. This incredulous plot comes off as playwright manipulation. Would Katha and Ryu sacrifice their dignity for the fake happiness (bliss?) that the narrow-minded world of 1955 offered? I doubt it  but since playwright Jordan Harrison has an agenda, they do.

The acting is fine here, especially from Molly Glynn and Larry Grimes but the whole thing is just too much for me. I believe that “the best of time is now, is now” to quote Jerry Herman. In this case nostalgia is debilitating.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: November 1, 2001

For full show information, check out the Maple and Vine page at Theatre In Chicago.

At Next Theatre, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston, IL, call 847-475-1875. www.nexttheatre.org, tickets $25 – $40, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through December 4, 2011