BWW Reviews: A.C.T.'s MAPLE AND VINE Challenges Audiences with Provocative, but Comedic Content
A humorous and thought-provoking journey into nostalgia, Maple and Vine begins with a fun, relaxing first act that follows a couple's decision to join a sort of "cult" community that chooses to live in 1955 every year. But don't let the first half fool you, the 50s weren't as perfect as they seem on television, and this play quickly escalates into a second act with shocking changes, F-words thrown loosely about in sexually provocative (and likely offensive to some) manners, and exaggerated kisses from two main characters.
Mind you, these challenging moments serve to prove a point that, though we long for a better world we think we can find in the past, the past is not as perfect as it seems. Case in point, two men in love with each other, secretly having an affair on the park lawn, also to supposed perfect accuracy of the time. The community is so concerned with accuracy, we suddenly realize that racial prejudice and homophobia were very present in the 50s, and not just against African Americans. People thrive on connection and friendly relations, but secrets are prominent, and our lead couple enjoys their newfound time together so much, they become like dolls with voice boxes, constantly replaying the same old recording.
But they like it that way, and they don't mind the adversities that come from being a mixed race couple because it brings them together. It's a stark contrast to the beginning when they believe they can make a difference in the community, despite the fact that it is stuck in 1955. Their decisions are confusing and intriguing all at once. Why do we long for the past, for something better? Why are we so unhappy? Is it because we have so many choices? The couple in Maple and Vine believe they have traded one freedom for another. They prefer a life where they are told how to live over a life where too many options leave them busy, depressed and disconnected. But in the end, they give you little reason for their final decision. Thus, the play does not work overall, albeit in a minor way.
The content of Maple and Vine overwhelms with so many subjects and possible take aways, it becomes difficult to pinpoint what exactly is the point of it all. That doesn't detract from the high quality of acting, costumes and sets, particularly a gorgeous city backdrop in the first act. Nelson Lee stays natural and laid-back throughout the play, while Emily Donahoe transforms from an exhausted city woman to a house wife who is all smiles. Julia Coffey and Jamison Jones bring the most satisfaction for audiences as the couple in charge of the 1955 community. The two are the picture of 1955 as they play off each other's lines, introducing the audience to the community as if they were moving in. Their charms are enough to convince the audience of the appeal of community.
But their charm fades in the second act as secrets unravel and as the feel of the show changes. The provocative content detracts from the overall experience of the show, at least for the more sensitive viewer. Some theater goers will not be able to handle the explicit sexual moments in the second half of the show, which are so overdone that one doesn't know what to think of them at first.
After a few months of attending plays at American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, it certainly seems like the company doesn't know how to do a show without unnecessary language. In previous months, I've gotten past the regular use of the F word as long as it seemed to contribute to the story. But Maple and Vine uses it so violently, the language is really the only thing I'm left remembering, despite the overall enjoyability of the play.
If you can handle such racy content, it's best you go see the show for yourself. Maple and Vine has elements of brilliance and bits of comedic pleasure. Its intentions are clearly well-meant, but in the end, the individual must decide whether the play actually has a point worth considering or if the show's contrasting acts go too far.
MAPLE AND VINE
American Conservatory Theatre
Through April 22