Tired of the complexity and confusion of modern life? Yearning for a simpler time when choices were fewer, roles were well-defined and TV dinners reigned supreme?
If so, you may be a candidate for the world of “Maple and Vine,” Frank Theatre’s foray into a creepily idyllic alternate universe.
Jordan Harrison’s play, which kicks off Frank’s 25th season, explores the possibility of opting out of the present-day world. It revolves around Katha and Ryu, a professional couple who find their high-pressured jobs, hectic urban environment and over-scheduled lifestyle less than fulfilling. Enter Dean, the smooth-talking spokesman for the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence, or SDO, a gated community where it’s always 1955. Lured by his vision of a golden bygone era, Katha and Ryu are persuaded to make a six-month trial trip into a world straight out of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”
Harrison mines a rich comic vein here, and director Wendy Knox and a spot-on ensemble make the most of their material.
Wade Vaughn, as the slick and slightly sinister Dean, is a perfect pitchman with his broad, gee-whiz smile and complaisant self-assurance. He’s capably matched by Katie Guentzel as his meticulously groomed and stiffly controlled wife, Ellen, who serves as the vice president of the Committee on Authentication. The narrative of “Maple and Vine” is interspersed with hilarious vignettes in which the couple instruct newcomers on the nuances of fitting in at this imaginary community, including directives to substitute pigs in a blanket and Sanka for sushi and lattés.
Cracks in this cheery facade appear almost immediately, of course. As a mixed-race couple, Ryu (Sherwin Resurreccion) and Katha (Tessa Flynn) are expected to accept blatant prejudice as a norm. The relationship between Dean and his gay lover, played with thoughtful complexity by David Beukema, is fraught with guilt and suppressed emotions. In one way or another, each character is forced to grapple with the dichotomies between an existence with too many choices and one with too few.
Harrison’s play isn’t without its problematic elements, including narrative jumps between Ryu and Katha’s old lives and their new ones that offer more confusion than illumination and a conclusion that seems a little pat. These are minor flaws, however, in the face of the play’s probing examination of larger questions about alienation and community in modern culture.
From Kathy Kohl’s costume design, which brilliantly evokes the period while simultaneously poking fun at it, to Michael Croswell’s bright and jazzy sound design and some very fine work by the acting ensemble, Frank Theatre gives this play a polished, intelligent and delightfully sly production.
Lisa Brock writes about theater.