Saturday, May 11, 2013

MAPLE AND VINE • HotCity Theatre

Contemporary life can be smothering sometimes, right?  With many of us spending our days tethered to our cellphones and laptops, wouldn't it be nice to live during a time where we weren't bombarded with constant stimulation?  Or would it?  HotCity explores these possibilities in its current offering, Jordan Harrison's Maple and Vine.

It's night as the lights come up on Katha (Shanara Gabrielle) and Ryu's (Alan C. David) NYC apartment.  Katha can't sleep.  Not only do they have noisy, inconsiderate neighbors, but Katha can't seem to get work out of her head.  She's completely burned out at her publishing job, and the everyday grind is complicated by the fact that she's having a difficult time dealing with a miscarriage she suffered six months earlier.  Her husband makes a nice living as a plastic surgeon, but Ryu's long hours at work have become unfulfilling for him as well.  One day, after impulsively quitting her job, Katha meets a man named Dean (Chad Morris).  He's unassumingly debonair in his suit, tie and hat, and has a friendliness about him that strikes Katha as a little unusual.

Shanara Gabrielle (Katha) and Alan C. David (Ryu).
Photo credit: Todd Studios
Dean, after an inquiry about directions and a small bit of conversation, feels comfortable enough to tell her about a place where she and her husband could live in a simpler time, free of the digital overloads of the 21st century.  He, along with his wife Ellen (Michelle Hand), who looks like she's stepped right out of an episode of "Ozzie and Harriet", are members of a group of reenactors, you might say.  The "Society of Dynamic Obsolescence".  This group painstakingly re-enact life from 1955, and Dean is a recruiter.  They have pamphlets and everything!

Chad Morris (Dean) and Michelle Hand (Ellen).
Photo credit: Todd Studios
After a bit of coaxing, Katha convinces Ryu to give this gated community a shot and take Dean up on the trial period.  With guidance from Ellen, Katha (now called "Kathy") rids herself of anything post 1955.  Bye-bye poly-blends. And Grey Goose vodka.  And sushi and lattes.  It's Salisbury steak, crab puffs and Sanka time!  Even though Kathy and Ryu do feel the need to set up a code word to say to each other when they have to talk about the world outside, Kathy takes to her life as a homemaker wholeheartedly.  She's empowered by the simple pleasures of making chicken stock on her own and keeping a nice house.  Ryu has a harder time settling into his new job assembling boxes under the supervision of his bigoted boss, Roger (Robby Suozzi).  Life in the 50's couldn't be easy for a Japanese American, and Ryu and Kathy couldn't avoid awkward glances as a "mixed race" couple during those times.  The fact that certain attitudes, regardless of the era, contain the same complications and taboos come to light as the play unfolds.  We learn that Dean and Roger have their own skeletons, and Ellen has become quite adept at hiding her own personal pains.

Shanara Gabrielle (Katha), Michelle Hand (Ellen),
Chad Morris (Dean) and Alan C. David (Ryu).
Photo credit: Todd Studios
Under Doug Finlayson's attentive direction, this play entertains and leaves you with things to think and talk about on the way home.  Gabrielle is magnetic as the frustrated exec. turned homemaker and Morris is the epitome of "dapper" as the impossibly neat Dean.  Hand delivers a delicately layered Ellen, and David capably handles his role as Ryu.  Suozzi turns in great performances as Roger, and Katha's ladder climbing co-worker, Omar.

Creative sound effects (Rusty Wandall) and lighting (Michael Sullivan) added to the surreal quality of the dream scenes, and the costumes (JC Krajicek) were great fun.  The set (Sean Savoie) nicely accommodates a contemporary minimal apartment, an office, and retro 1950's surroundings.  HotCity, by the way, is auctioning off a few of the vintage furniture!  You get more information about that in your program.

Check it out!  It's playing until the 18th.

Shanara Gabrielle (Katha) and Alan C. David (Ryu).
Photo credit: Todd Studios

Written by Jordan Harrison
Directed by Doug Finlayson
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through May 18 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Shanara Gabrielle* (Katha), Alan C. David (Ryu), Michelle Hand (Ellen/Jenna), Chad Morris (Dean) and Robby Suozzi (Roger/Omar).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Sean Savoie; lighting design by Michael Sullivan; sound design by Rusty Wandall; costume design by JC Krajicek; dramaturg, Gad Guterman; stage manager, Richard Agnew.

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