Maple and Vine from Scottsdale's Theatre Artists Studio Is New and Sneakily Provocative
The setup: A few years back, playwright Jordan Harrison was approached by Anne Kaufmann of The Civilians, NYC's "investigative theater" troupe, who'd become fascinated with intentional communities such as Hasidic Jews, nuns, and the Amish, bearing transcripts of interviews and a request to let the concept marinate and come up with a script.
Mark Gluckman Bunch of baloney: From left, Brad Bond and Dale Nakagawa tie on the feedbag in Maple and Vine.
The result, Maple and Vine, premièred at Louisville's Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2011 and then ran at Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan. Attending the current production by Theatre Artists Studio, I got to sit near some people who had no idea ahead of time what the play was about. Now that I've experienced their reactions, that's what I recommend. Even the theaters that present this show let slip too much. If it's not too late, don't even read New Times' Night & Day item about it.
The execution: A trend in contemporary theater that I've always kind of liked is the very short scene. Perhaps inspired by film-making or the nature of human memory, a full-length play made of very short scenes can seem marvelously astute or simply lazy and unfocused. Either way, it's a lot of extra work for directors, designers, actors, and crew.
Maple and Vine's two acts add up to 32 scenes. Almost every one contains some piece of dialogue that was so drenched with under-the-surface meaning, it just about made my jaw drop. It doesn't take a lot of effort to follow the plot -- if you don't know where you are right away, relax and trust that the playwright benignly intends that you might not know and it's totally fine. You'll get there under your own power, and that's the best way.
The two lead characters, Ryu and Katha, are in the same boat -- finding out what they've gotten into as they go along -- which makes it convenient for the audience to identify with them. The couple lives in "a large East Coast city," according to the program, but if you work at Random House and think about moving to Nyack because there'd be more room, I'm pretty sure you live in New York.
Mark Gluckman Dale Nakagawa and Maureen Dias prepare for a change in Maple and Vine.
Life is stressful and confusing and sad, and when Katha encounters a representative from an intentional community, it seems like a possible cure: freedom from the paradox of choice. Some of The Civilians' interview subjects explained, "they were scared of how much freedom they had in the modern world, and it was confusing not to have someone tell them what the right choices were," as Harrison told The New York Times (again, don't click if you want to remain unspoiled).