Maple and Vine
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
December 3, 2011
In his new play Maple and Vine, Jordan Harrison takes to a heart the helpful old writing tip, “define your terms up front and nobody can question you.” This intriguing, superbly acted dark comedy, directed by Anne Kauffman at Playwrights Horizons, concerns a pair of bored New Yorkers, circa 2011, who voluntarily decide to give up their iPads and Starbucks and impressively large salaries and move to a vaguely Midwestern community where it’s perpetually 1955.
The rules are simple. Authenticity is key. Husbands and wives sleep in different beds. They watch I Love Lucy. They have guests over and play Charades. Women wear house dresses, have children and tend the home. Men go to work, make money, have a three martini lunch if their job calls for it, and shouldn’t be afraid to get a bit forceful with the missus if they’re not behaving. Homosexuality is verboten. A mixed-race couple, such as Katha and Ryu (Marin Ireland and Peter Kim), should probably stick to the north side of the gated community. The north is more accepting. After all, it’s only been a few years since the Japanese were released from internment camps, and some still may not feel entirely comfortable.
The Society of Dynamic Obsolescence is the perfect place for a woman like Katha, a book editor, still recovering from a miscarriage she suffered months earlier, and itching to escape her own skin. Ryu, an unsatisfied plastic surgeon, goes along for the ride. They learn of the community after she meets Dean (Trent Dawson), a mysterious figure who encourages her to join, at least for a temporary six-month trial. Dean and his wife Ellen (Jeanine Serralles) quickly befriend Katha and Ryu, and they discover how wonderful life really can be. Until the façade starts cracking.
Harrison’s concept is so entertaining, out-of-the-box and well-constructed that it can be forgiven for any shortcomings, like an a-ha moment that isn’t entirely surprising, and a second act that takes too long to conclude. And since he defines his terms up front, there are absolutely no questions of logic. Dawson and Serralles are perfection as the 1950s would-be Ozzie and Harriet couple with a secret. Pedro Pascal is striking in his sliminess as Roger, Ryu’s new boss. Kim molds quite a bit from a fairly thankless role, and the always astounding Ireland continuously finds ways of making Katha’s moments seem earned, even the ones in the second act as her character takes a surprisingly sinister turn.
Particular credit goes to David Weiner’s ominous lighting, Ilona Symogyi’s period-perfect costumes and Alexander Dodge’s shape-shifting, Erector Set-esque set, as well as the four stagehands who keep everything moving so smoothly during the show and its intermission, where, in fifteen minutes, they construct an entirely new design.