Editor’s note: Telluride Inside… and Out’s monthly (more or less) column, Tall Tales, is so named because contributor Mark Stevens is one long drink of water. He is also long on talent. Mark is the author of “Antler Dust” and “Buried by the Roan,” both on the shelves of Telluride’s own Between the Covers Bookstore, 224 West Colorado Ave, Box 2129. He is also a former reporter (Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, Rocky Mountain News) and television producer (MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour) now working in public relations – and occasionally publishing wonderful books. The following is his review of Curious Theatre’s “Maple and Vine.”
Marcel Proust said it well: “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
Or, to quote Doug Larson: “Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.”
That elusive and occasionally overwhelming sensation known as nostalgia—that wistful, sentimental, melancholy wave of yearning—is at the heart of Jordan Harrison’s distinctly dark “Maple and Vine.”
As the Curious Theatre Company’s regional premiere of the play so powerfully demonstrates, nostalgia is a mean, deceitful liar.
“Maple and Vine” is centered around a brilliant idea. Modern-day stresses and complications can be jettisoned by moving to an isolated, cordoned-off and carefully managed community that decided time stood still in 1955, when life was allegedly simpler, more manageable and, as a result, more enjoyable.
Katha (Karen Slack) and Ryu (Dale Li) are a modern-day, mixed-race couple whose New York City lives – she works in publishing, he’s a plastic surgeon – are starkly unsatisfying.
She had a miscarriage, stares off into space at work, and can’t sleep without popping a pill. He is unhappy because she’s unhappy and, as the play begins, they are generally and casually at odds, putting up with their struggles and muddling through.
Katha meets quirky representatives from the throwback Society of Dynamic Obsolescence, who look like they have time travelled from the Eisenhower era. Dean (Josh Robinson) and Ellen (C. Kelly Leo) urge the couple to consider a six-month tryout in their highly-controlled bubble of alleged perfection, where Ozzie and Harriet are revered as role models and where roles and responsibilities are sharply defined.
Essentially, when Katha and Ryu move to a planned community called “Yesterday,” the play evokes a wonderful mixed-up sensation somewhere between the movie “Pleasantville” and the television series “Lost.” There are near science fiction elements to the script. It’s as if this community is on a neighboring planet; there are scant details on its size or location. Crab puffs and Salisbury steak take over for sushi and lattes. Dubonnet is what you drink, milk is delivered in bottles at your doorstep, and the women wear aprons over their house dresses. (And do so happily).
Katha joins the Authenticity Committee and soon the transformation is complete—Katha and Ryu are inculcated, indoctrinated, absorbed. They are at one with The Burb.
But is it better? Is the community a storyline? Can you change who you really are, down deep? And, are you willing to risk progress on issues involving tolerance and race in exchange for an allegedly higher sensation of order and apparent calm?
“Maple and Vine” contains a few nifty shocking moments. Those “rough edges” Larson referenced are in full view. I won’t spill any details here, but the play leans dark.
The Curious Theatre’s production rocks along—the scenes are brisk, the set-changes (a very clever and easily-manipulated design) are fast, the hand-holding of the audience is minimal. Several scenes multi-task, telling parallel moments powerfully.
Slack makes a stunning transformation and carries the show with a sure step. Li, Leo, Robinson and Stuart Stanks (who plays two major roles) are right with her.
“Maple and Vine,” a glimpse back at the not-so golden age and a caution about growing wistful over a simpler time, is highly recommended.
“Maple and Vine” runs (Thursday—Sunday) through Feb. 23 at The Curious Theatre, 1080 Acoma St. in downtown Denver.
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