Recommended Often, we sit around with friends and family and talk about “The good old days”. You know; those days when there were no computers, cell phones, faxes and even television was a few stations where the family sat in one room and watched as a family.In Jordan Harrison’s new play, “Maple and Vine” now being presented by Next Theatre Company, we get an opportunity to meet a “today couple”, living in our fast paced world be offered an opportunity to leave their hectic stressed environment for a different world, one where the technicolor world of today becomes the black and white world of 1955. Katha ( Molly Glynn) a high powered executive and her husband Ryu( Peter Sipla) a doctor, live in New York. They have it all, except they don’t enjoy all the things they have. They lost a child, they never spend time with each other and all in all, life for this couple is not what they had hoped for.
The stress of their lives is tearing them apart when one day, Katha meets Dean ( brilliantly played by Lawrence Grimm) who appears to have stepped out of an old tv show. He and his wife, Ellen ( deftly handled by Jenny Avery) are in charge of a 1955 re-enactment group settled in a small fictional Midwestern community where it is 1955 and convince Katha and Ryu that this is what they need to begin enjoying each other. They are promised that they can try it for 6 months and if unhappy, they will be able to give up this non technological life and return to the stress of what they have in their technicolor lives. What they find in this “Leave it To Beaver”/”Ozzie and Harriet” life, this new world is happiness, but at what price? This is a time when inter-racial couples are frowned on and Ryu being of Asian heritage is not as welcome as his “white” wife. Does he deserve the same treatment as the “regular” residents? What is “regular” and who should be accepted?
Under the smooth direction of Damon Kiely, on a set designed by Keith Pitts, we are taken back in time, a time where men went to work and women stayed home and kept house. A time when credit cards didn’t exist, people had dinner parties and played parlor games ( like charades) and people used phones and the postal service to communicate. Some of the furniture in this production will remind you of your Aunt Lil’s home and will certainly remind you of the family TV fare we watched. The music (Lindsay Jones) is original, but truly feels that we know the melodies ( they are so 50’s!) and the costumes (Alex Meados) and props (Ryann Lee) truly make the 1950’s seem like they are happening now.
This cast does an extraordinary job of taking us down memory lane. The fifth actor in this cast, Paul D’Addario takes on two roles, Omar, Katha’s underling who takes on her job when she leaves and then Roger, a member of the “community” who along with Dean shares a secret. There are some clever little sub-plots to this intriguing story that looks at the good old days in a different way. As we watch, we see the world of Dean and Ellen slip away and the world of Katha ( now called Kathy) and Ryu develop into one of happiness as Kathy transform from busy business woman to Donna Reed right before our very eyes ( Glynn really shows what a strong actress she is) and Ryu becomes the loving nurturing husband ( impressive work by Sipla).
While the play starts off a little slow, it soon gather momentum and we begin to get into these characters and their lives. The ending gets a bit confusing as it appeared that Kathy and Ryu take over for Dean and Ellen as recruiters for this “never-land” life, but then we have a final scene where your mind becomes a little confused. Was there resolution? Was this real? Those are the questions you might ask yourself, or perhaps, the discussion you will have with those you attend the theater with. Theater is designed to entertain and yet make you think- this one does both with just the right touch.
“maple and Vine” will continue at Next Theatre located at 927 Noyes Street in Evanston through December 4th with performances as follows:
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.,Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.,Sundays at 2 p.m. There will be Saturday matinees on November 12th,19th,26th and December 3rd. After the Sunday performances they will have talk-back discussion groups with staff of the company. I am sure these will be eye opening.
To order your tickets call 847-475-1875 ext 2 or visit www.nexttheatre.org
Tickets range from $25-$40
Next Theatre is located right by the “L” Noyes Street stop and there is plenty of parking both in the lot and on the street. The theater is just East of Ridge and West of Sherman very close to the Northwestern Campus.