Were people happier in the good old days? “Maple and Vine” takes this question literally.
The play, written by Jordan Harrison and directed by Professor of Theater Neil Blackadder, will run May 7-10 at 7:30 p.m. in Harbach Theatre. The play tells tells the story of a couple, Katha and Ryu, who are dissatisfied with their life in the modern city.
Katha is restless and unhappy and her husband is confused by his inability to connect with her and her inability to cope. Their lives are changed when they meet Dean, a representitve for the Society of Dynamic Obsolecscence, a group who have chosen to live life in a minature version of 1955 America.
The play is a joy to watch. The roles are well acted. The plot is engaging and the ideas are thoughtfully presented in a way that will stay with the viewer. The small cast means that everyone gets a chance to shine. Whether it’s junior Emily Passarelli as the career woman who is enticed by the 1950s reactionist or junior Paula Castaos and freshman Erik Dohner. In his first role at Knox, freshman Tristan Yi carries the interesting role of a modern husband following his wife into the past, even if it means seeking out discrimination: then dealing with the consequences believably. Sophomore Dakota Stipp brings nuance and vulnerability to the stage.
The actors were helped by a strong script. Harrison takes an unlikely premise and allows his characters to react like real people and invites the audience in. He manages to touch on the topics of gender roles, race, sexuality, nostalgia, the modern disconnect and the actual meaning of reality. Impressively, Harrison rarely becomes directly didactic. Instead, most of the story is left open to the viewer. The audience is left to question if the characters made their right decisions and what their choices mean to us.
Friday’s production of the play will have a talk back. I will admit that I am not usually one to stay for talkbacks. I am usually interested to stay for the play but after that, I am ready to go home. However, for this play, I would actually want to hear the audience, actors’ and directors’ takes on the play.
The play is mainly dramatic, but it helps keep its tension by mixing in humor. In the first act, the plot is interspersed with snippets of an orientation presentation from the SDO, explaining how life works in their nineteen-fifties world. The descriptions of slang and modern foods were especially enjoyable. Impressively in the second act, the play was able to make the entire audience laugh with one word.
Ironically, for a play about the rejection of modernity, Maple and Vine makes great use of technology in their production. The play’s actual set is sparse, but they suggest many locations, time periods and even character development through the use of projection, music and video.
The choice to make the set sparse was mostly successful.The decision allowed the stage to be more dynamic when necessary. It also allowed the audience to fill in their own stereotypes about modern and 50s life.
The problem with this setup was time. Most scene changes involved moving at least one large piece of furnature and so each change made a notable devision between scenes. This, combined with the fact that the scenes were usually short, was a bit of a problem.
In the first act especially, it was sometimes hard to actually get into the play when it felt like there was as much time spent switching the scenes as was spent in the scenes themselves. This problem is lessened in the second half when the audience is more invested in the story and the scene changes are less drastic.
This inconvenience, however, is more than worth the experience of seeing “Maple and Vine”. The thoughtful direction, writing, design and acting come together to form one intriguing whole. The characters are not simple and immediately digestable like the people on the sitcoms they watch.
Instead, Maple and Vine creates a enjoyably complex story that is neither cautionary nor fairy tale.