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Maple and Vine

As Carly Simon once sang, "... stay right here 'cause these are the good old days." Or are they?

Dale Li as Ryu and Karen Slack as Katha
Dale Li as Ryu
and Karen Slack as Katha
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Twenty-first century big city angst—generated by work and relationship pressures—leads a Manhattan couple, Katha and Ryu, to seek a new life in a gated community dedicated to life as it was circa 1955, in Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of Jordan Harrison's Maple and Vine.

Part "Far from Heaven," part "Pleasantville," Harrison's work questions the requirements for happiness—a worthy quest, since happiness is one of life's key ingredients. In Manhattan, Katha (Karen Slack) works as a book editor and Ryu (Dale Li) is a plastic surgeon, each essentially catering to the inflated egos of their clients. Good as their combined income and cash flow is, their life is defined by stress.

(Left to right) Karen Slack as Katha and C. Kelly Leo as Ellen
(L to R) Karen Slack as Katha
and C. Kelly Leo as Ellen
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Before working class wages were frozen in the '70's (and remain suppressed), a family could live comfortably on the income of one wage-earner. Today? Fuggedaboutit! But ensconced behind the walls of their enclave, amongst the faithful practitioners in the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (SDO), Ryu can work in a factory while Katha concentrates on homemaking. They seem smiley-face happy. But in their honest moments, when, by agreement, they may say the magic words (a curious choice by the playwright) and discuss things outside the confines of the '50's, we see that there's "trouble right here in River City."

For example, one of the challenges of ersatz 1955 is with folks trying to be authentic racists, sexists, and bigots. Fun, maybe, if you're an actor, but in real life?

Why are the choices provided by the playwright limited to either going backwards or being stressed?

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language." Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, translated by Saul K. Padover from the German edition of 1869.1

Isn't there a way to have the best of both worlds AND be authentic?

Yes, although an elegant solution such as this requires us to make changes in the basic premises on which we mistakenly believe our society is based. Is this an evolutionary step that we are willing to take? Oh, sure, there are always a few—the vanguard—who are ready to take that leap, but for most folks, changing a belief threatens their identity, so they fall back on intransigency.

C. Kelly Leo as Ellen and Josh Robinson as Dean
C. Kelly Leo as Ellen
and Josh Robinson as Dean
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Director Chip Walton draws a number of impressive performances from his cast. In concert with Harrison's clever premise, C. Kelly Leo and Josh Robinson, tongues planted firmly, but judiciously, in cheek, delight us with their seemingly guileless testimonials for retro-authenticity; until, however, enter stage right "the love that cannot be spoken" that disrupts the blood pressure of so-called conservatives, and "the walls come tumblin' down."

Despite a rough patch early, Li and Slack's easy-going, yet quirky, chemistry sells the premise, as they climb the ladder of '50's respectability.

Stuart Sanks stings us with impunity as Omar and Roger, two gay men living nearly 60 years apart at the same time. The contrast reminds me of Jody Foster's remarks at the Golden Globes, characterizing social prejudices "back in the stone age." Clearly, we must keep moving forward. Stress reduction is as close as removing the private franchise over the monetary system. Then we shall have the affordability of the '50's with the social equality we relish, as well as freedom from debt slavery.

Curious Theatre Company's presentation of Maple and Vine runs through February 23rd. For more information: 303-623-0524 or www.curioustheatre.org.

Bob Bows

Footnotes: 1 http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm.

 

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