After safely entering the 2012-13 season with two one-act plays by Arthur Miller, Proof by David Auburn, the O. Henry parody Twist of the Magi by Debra Gettleman, and Over the River and Through the Woods by Joe DiPietro, The Studio takes a leap of faith with this Arizona premiere by Jordan Harrison.
A 2012 Humana Festival New American Play and GLAAD Media Awards nominee, Maple and Vine is described by Director Richard Hardt as, “a very 'Outer Limits', 'Twilight Zone' kind of story -- a self-imposed psychological exile to another world of fantasy." While that’s a fine pop culture assessment, it’s only the tip of the Mapplethorpe & Vine iceberg.
Harrison suckers the audience into what a first blush does indeed seem like a story that Rod Serling should introduce, but this play is four-times as long as any half-hour TV episode and a helluva lot rawer.
Submitted for your approval, what happens when two couples living 60 years apart collide? Meet Katha (Maureen Dias), a burnt-out book editor at Random House and her Asian-American husband Ryu (Dale Nakagawa) who is a highly successful plastic surgeon.
Enter Dean (Radford Mallon), a man of many words, but most of them from the mid-1950s. His wife Ellen (Debra Rich) is a self-imposed throwback to simpler times – when housewives cooked from the original food pyramid and doted on their husbands.
Dean and Ellen represent the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence or S.D.O. and try to recruit “Kathy” (as Ellen prefers to call her) and Ryu into joining their gated community which sounds eerily similar to Glenn Beck’s Independence, USA.
Kathy dismisses her hubby’s skepticism with “It’s not a cult, they have nonprofit status!” And after drinking the Kool-Aid, Ryu decries “We aren't saying that people are happier in 1955. But we are saying that people are more present. We are not in pursuit of the past. We are in pursuit of the present.”
Harrison’s dialogue is clever and juxtaposition well-intended, but it’s tough to pull off blackouts on such a small stage – especially when it’s never totally dark. By the time you read this, most of the technical timing should be ironed out, but you’ll still probably hear “The Tennessee Waltz” one too many times.
For the most part, Director Hardt did a delightful job with casting. Valley newcomer Brad Bond (reminiscent of a young Vladek Sheybal) is engaging in both of his roles as Katha’s openly-gay successor Omar and the repressed homosexual Roger who haunts her new Ozzie & Harriet-esque neighborhood.
All in all, Maple and Vine is worth the trip to Cactus and P.V. Parkway. The show runs through March 17 with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. General admission tickets are $20 with discounts available for students, seniors, military and groups of 10 or more. Once you’re hooked, save some money, support the arts, and get more perks with a sustaining membership.
After seeing this show, read Alva Noë’s blog on NPR "Are You Overwhelmed? You Don’t Have to Be" for your own sanity, or simply listen to your spouse. Mine concluded that “The trick is to be present in the present, instead of present in the past.”
In April, Theatre Artists Studio presents another Humana Fest play called Great Falls by Lee Blessing. In this story, a father takes his stepdaughter on a cross-country road trip to try and repair their rocky relationship. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride!