BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Enervated by the twittering madness of these times? Stressed by the mind-boggling array of choices in food, lifestyles and culture we face in 2011?
Perhaps you’d prefer to escape to the relative serenity of circa 1955 America, where options were fewer but everybody knew their place in life.
If so, a very large — and growing — gated community in the Midwest that is maintained by the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence provides emigrants with a retreat to the rigid yet comfortable Eisenhower era.
That’s the nifty premise for Jordan Harrison’s intriguing new play “Maple and Vine.” Quite a thoughtful piece, “Maple and Vine” opened Wednesday at Playwrights Horizons and offers an imaginative concept interestingly developed, some good writing and a well-acted production.
Harrison’s story follows a troubled modern-day couple, Katha (Marin Ireland) and Ryn (Peter Kim), who decide to start new 1950s-style lives in the SDO community where she thrives as a happy housewife and he takes pride in excelling at factory work.
A more assimilated duo, Dean (Trent Dawson) and Ellen (Jeanine Serralles), who strive to be Ozzie and Harriet, help the newbies get into the throwback mindset known as “authenticity,” but soon are beset by their own problems.
Although the plot’s complications take an obvious path in act two, the playwright provides considerable and often humorous food for thought regarding the attitudes, codes and customs of that supposedly happier time. One half of a “mixed-race couple” (Ryn is Japanese-American), Katha eventually becomes so gung-ho 1950s that she urges her neighbors to be less tolerant around them.
Always a persuasive actress, Ireland nicely traces Katha’s quickening interest and gradual immersion in the society. A slim, Lois Lane lookalike in designer Ilona Somogyi’s period clothes, Serralles confidently imbues Ellen with a cool nature that conceals secret anguish. Anne Kauffman, the director, obtains solid performances from her other actors but does the play’s pacing no good by okaying Alexander Dodge’s handsome but busy settings that take too much time to change locations.
Harrison’s smart way with structure and easy way with dialogue are enjoyable even if his play does not evolve — or regress? – quite as deeply as one might like. Even so, “Maple and Vine” is a dandy place to visit.
“Maple and Vine” continues through Dec. 31 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St., New York. Call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.