I can remember days of no cell phones, no voicemail, no answering machines. If I wasn’t home, I missed the call. And I was okay with that. I knew if it was important that they would call back. So it’s fascinating to me that not having a signal on my cell for just moments, can spin me into a rage. Suddenly, being available 23:59:38/7 isn’t enough. What if I miss a call, text, email, facebook posting, or tweet? Why are what people have to say now so much more significant to me than people then?
Next Theatre presents the Chicago premiere of MAPLE & VINE. Katha and Ryu are feeling disconnected. Katha is detached from the fast-moving world. Ryu is separated from his distant wife. Katha meets Dean. He’s from another time. No, it’s not sci-fi time travel. It’s fifties flashback! Dean and his wife Ellen choose to live in the past. Literally, their community has created a “Pleasantville” meets “The Village” existence. Katha and Ryu decide to join the old-fashion faction. They shun their power-couple-doctor-editor-existence. They go homemaker and blue collar. It’s as simple as that! But what happens when the role playing gets complicated? When the good old days reflect oppression and discrimination? Is the gated community keeping *the better life* in or out? MAPLE & VINE is a desirable destination with an excessive commute.
The premise of this show is fantastical. It’s like Chicagoans choosing to become Amish. The assimilation conflicts have endless entertainment value. But for me, Playwright Jordan Harrison took too long to get to MAPLE & VINE. The first act builds the case for escape from a self-involved and isolated world. I don’t need a whole act explaining what is disenchanting about the modern world. I walked into the theatre already a believer. Sprinkled throughout the first half, there are hilarious snippets of 1950’s life. Lawrence Grimm (Dean) and Jenny Avery (Ellen) speak to the audience like we are the recent recruits to the alternative society. A slick-talking Grimm and his acerbic wife Avery promote the freedom of yesterday’s inconveniences. No to cell phones, computers or cable. Yes to pigs-in-the-blanket and smoking. I’m ready to see this world of Betty Crocker and foundation garments! But I have to wait… until the second act.
When we finally get to MAPLE & VINE, the scenery (Keith Pitts) and costumes (Alex Meadows) are ‘I Love Lucy’ vintage. The authentic look is nifty. And the story really starts. It’s progression in reverse. Gender roles are embraced! The little woman’s sole purpose is to feed her man. To encourage accuracy in time period, discrimination is encouraged. Not just encouraged but requested by the potential target. We learn Dean and Ellen’s reasoning for choosing voluntary simplicity. The second act is just bursting with interesting twists in personality and desires. And I want more of this grown-up pretend. Is it a cult? It is a fantasy? Who are these people? MAPLE & VINE is a happening intersection. With some shortcuts getting there, it’d be a fascinating place to explore in more depth.
Running Time: Two hours includes an intermission
At Noyes Center, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston
Written by Jordan Harrison
Directed by Damon Kiely
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Saturdays at 4pm (Nov. 12, 19, 26 and Dec 3)
Sundays at 2pm
Thru December 4th