Do you ever just get so sick of modern daily life with your work crap and your relationship crap and the inanity of Facebook and Twitter and your phone that doesn’t stop ringing and your overflowing email that you just want to get away from it all? I’ve felt that way. Usually I go up north once a year where I can actually unplug from most of it. It’s good to take a break every once in a while. In Maple and Vine, a play by Jordan Harrison being presented by Frank Theatre and Old Arizona, the characters “escape” by traveling back in time (sort of) to 1955.
Katha (Tessa Flynn) and Ryu (Sherwin Sherwin Reserreccion) are a young, upwardly mobile couple (he’s a plastic surgeon, she’s in publishing) who have recently lost a child in a miscarriage. Both are depressed—Katha numbs herself by watching Anne of Green Gables on Youtube and phoning in at her job and Ryu cries suddenly for no reason. One day, Katha meets a mysteriously cheerful man named Dean (Wade Vaughn) who tells her about a community of people who all live forever as if it’s 1955.
Katha is portrayed as a bit more unhinged than her husband, so while it’s not really a surprise that she buys into the idea, it takes a bit of a suspension of disbelief that Ryu would agree to it too. (In general, Ryu’s reactions to both Katha’s insensitive remarks on race and to the whole premise of the commune where he essentially becomes a second-class citizen are pretty hard to believe).
One of the main themes of the play is nostalgia—a yearning for a simpler time. It starts in the beginning with Katha’s binge watching of Anne of Green Gables and becomes the reason for their joining the cult. The allure of 1955, as Jean’s wife Ellen (played by Katie Guentzel) explains, is not just the simplicity but also the repression.
As you might expect, Katha and Ryu’s little vacation doesn’t go as swimmingly as perhaps they planned, and the whole thing devolves into a Todd Haynes—style melodramatic farce. Eventually we learn that even the leaders of the new community came to the place as a way to escape their lives—even to make it worse than it had been before.
My main problem with the play is the premise. I just didn’t understand why these characters would think this was a good idea in the first place to agree to living as if it’s 1955, and I could never really figure out what playwright Jordan Harrison’s point was. Was it that, even though there are things that suck about the 21st century, at least they aren’t as bad as they used to be? Possibly.
Anyway, it’s certainly a clever script, even if the message is unclear. And the actors all did fine jobs with their roles—Tessa Flynn particularly imbued an empathy mixed with dorkiness that was quite charming. The scene changes irritated me in that there were too many of them and they took too long, but other than that, the play made for a weird and entertaining evening.