Let's Review: All is not what it seems at 1950’s ‘Maple and Vine’

By Diana Saenger

Those of us past age 20, often hear complaints about the growing dependence on technology and fears that today’s young people will never enjoy the warm, fuzzy feelings many of us had growing up in earlier decades.That’s the theme of Jordan Harrison’s “Maple and Vine,” in its Southern California premiere at Old Town’s Cygnet Theatre through Feb. 16.

Plastic surgeon Ryu (Greg Watanabe), and his wife Katha (Jo Anne Glover), are experiencing the loss of a child. Ryu’s schedule doesn’t allow him time to dwell on the incident. However, Katha has plenty of time on her job at a publishing house or home waiting for Ryu.

They comfort each other with words of love, but Katha’s depression is growing. When she runs into Dean (Jordan Miller) a tall, out-of-current-fashion dressed man who seems as merry as Bert in “Mary Poppins,” his come-on gets her attention.

That evening she explains to Ryu they’ve been invited to move into a gated community, set up as it would be in 1955. All of Ryu’s cautions go unheard; he’ll do anything to save his wife.

Soon the couple is following stringent rules, relayed to them by the couple in charge, Dean and Ellen (Amanda Sitton). Ryu gives up his medical career to tape boxes at the box plant. Under the helm of her Donna Reed-clone, Ellen, Katha soon has a spotless 1950s home, experiments with recipes so dinner is on the table when Ryu comes home, and is always dressed up and picture perfect.

Katha is exceedingly happy. She’s the perfect housewife, doesn’t have to work, and enjoys things like Charades with the neighbors. Ryu, one the other hand, gets the third degree from his colleague Roger (Mike Nardelli), about being Japanese, and being married to a Caucasian woman. Ryu’s also trying to forget that he makes a few dollars an hour now instead of the high salary he once commanded.

Ellen seems perfectly happy, whether encouraging Katha to join the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (a group that makes rules women have to follow) or wondering where Dean spends a lot of his time in this small community.

It’s not long before Ryu catches Dean and Roger together sexually and suddenly 1955 seems as complicated as the decades that follow it.

Although the cast creates authentic characters, the plot feels slightly uneven to me; what seemed to be a lighthearted story actually features scenes that are negative concerning racism, sexism and sexual orientation (for which the latter’s physicality could have been played down some). I can’t recommend this play to anyone under age 18, and I noticed quite a few senior patrons were uncomfortable during some scenes.

If you go

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What: ‘Maple and Vine’

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When: Through Feb. 16

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Where: Cygnet Theatre, The Old Town Stage, 4040 Twiggs St., San Diego

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Tickets: $29-$54.

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Box Office: (619) 337-1525

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Website: cygnettheatre.com

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