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"Maple and Vine" Review

Seeking Authenticity

Address: Studio Theatre/PA 32, Performing Arts, Bldg., College of Marin
Kentfield, CA 94904
Phone: 415-485-9385

"Maple and Vine"—Seeking Authenticity

Bau (Tuan) Tran as Ryu and Sopia Harris as Katha in Jordan Harrison's "Maple and Vine"

Review by Judith M. Wilson
Photos by Robin Jackson

It’s easy to look back at better times when the going gets tough, but viewing them through the filter of nostalgia can deliver an unrealistic picture. While a past era might sound like a perfect world, the reality can be quite different. Perfection, after all, is relative. It might be possible though, if one can truly lead an authentic life in a microcosm based on an idealized 1955. And that’s the premise of Jordan Harrison’s play Maple and Vine, currently playing in the Studio Theatre at the College of Marin.

Lucas Evans as Dean with Sophia Harris as Katha in a Manhattan park

The story opens in contemporary times, with Katha, a young woman who’s lost a baby spending wakeful nights contemplating her life and looking for meaning. She’s got a good job with a publishing house, a husband, Ryu, who’s a successful plastic surgeon, and a comfortable up-scale home in New York City, but she’s dissatisfied and is searching for answers. Enter Dean, who finds her on a park bench and launches into a sales spiel about the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence and its intentional community set in one perfect year, 1955. Soon, Katha and Ryu leave their cosmopolitan life for a trial run in a planned community that replicates mid-century America, and Katha slips into the role of Katha, the perfect housewife, while Ryu finds a job assembling boxes in a factory. They’re not time travelers visiting 1955, like Marty McFly in Back to the Future. Rather, they’ve committed themselves to adopt the norms and values of the era so they can pursue an authentic life, and that means conforming in every aspect—appearance, behavior, words, attitude and even thoughts—and it isn’t always easy.

As Katha and Ryu’s experience unfolds, and they become friends with Dean and his wife Ellen (Hana Bixler and Lucas Evans, right), ostensibly the perfect couple circa 1955, we start to see what lies beneath the surface of that year and find prejudice, secrecy and repression. Those weaknesses, however, play against a world more than 50 years later, where people often interact more with technology than with real-life individuals. It’s thought-provoking for the audience, because it leads to questions about what one would be willing to give up and the compromises one would accept to find a satisfying life. One size doesn’t fit all, and in a society that expects conformity, individuals make choices nonetheless.

Bradley Markwick as Omar, Lucas Evans as Dean and Hana Bixler as Jenna

COM boasts a talented roster of actors who shine in their roles. Sophia Harris portrays Katha/Kathy, who goes from self-doubt to confidence as finds her bearings, and Bau (Tuan) Tran plays a remarkably adaptable Ryu, who loves Katha and is willing to interrupt a successful career to embark on an experiment. As Dean, Lucas Evans is passionate about the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence, and yet he has a secret that’s at odds with its mission. Hana Bixler, as his wife Ellen, shows the evolution of a woman who starts out as somewhat overbearing enforcer of the rules to one who shows weakness when circumstances change, and. Brad Markwick ably fills two roles, Roger, Ryu’s boss in 1955, and Katha’s colleague in modern times. A team of shadow actors fills out the cast, and in addition, several actors play scenes that reflect the mid-1950s in the lobby during intermission—one showing the choices open to teenage girls and the other reflecting the fear of Communism during the Cold War. Under Molly Noble’s direction, the actors are true to their roles and reveal certain truths about human nature that transcend time.

The set is simple to allow set changes that take the setting from a post-2000 world to 1955 and back effectively, and the details, such as cell phones to an old-fashioned wall phone, make the contrast clear. Clothing also fits the eras. Katha, for example, goes from casual at home, to business attire to the Betty Crocker look, complete with flip hairdo, of the 1950s.

Maple and Vine doesn’t have any easy answers, but it does raise questions worth thinking about, and an engaging ensemble of performers make the finely honed production entertaining, while challenging us to think of the quality of our lives.

Maple and Vine runs through May 21, with performances on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

Tickets: 414-485-9385 or www.brownpapertickets.com.

Sophia Harris as Kathy (left)