By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com 

Does the digital world have you feeling too virtual for comfort?  Perhaps you’d like to retreat into the white bread All-American 1950’s, where values were obvious, easy, and correct.

If so, Actor’s Express may have just the play for you:  Jordan Harrison’s “Maple and Vine,” which premiered at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in 2011 and off-Broadway later that year.  The New York Times called it a “dark whimsy,” and the Express version will run through April 20.

Katha (Kate Donadio) and Ryu (Michael Sung-Ho) are a well-off New York couple who are both suffering from major job burnout.  In addition, Katha suffered a miscarriage six months ago; both were deeply disappointed.

Into the picture pops Dean (John Benzinger) who sees Kate, senses her discontent, and cheerily offers a startling proposal:  How would she and her husband Ryu like to escape the pressures of 21st Century living and zip away to a time-warped community in the Midwest where life is lived strictly as if it were 1955.  It’s called the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence.

Before  you know it, Katha and Ryu are seduced by eager-beaver monologues that Dean and his purring wife Ellen (Tiffany Morgan) have honed to a Stepford-wives hypnotic appeal that even Martha Stewart would love.

So we find ourselves in the robotically cheery world of the S.D.O.  Jeremy Harrison completes the cast as Roger, Ryu’s boss at the factory where he now works.  Roger is also, if I may be a little cryptic, “the other man.”

But you know what they say about the grass being greener; in the 50’s, attitudes toward race, sexuality, gender, and feminism were all different, to put it mildly.  I can tell you no more at this point, lest I risk being a spoiler.

The play is directed by Kate Warner; she took a hiatus in Boston and is back, and I for one am glad.

John Benzinger and Kate Donadio are attractive, talented actors, and it’s a pleasure to see them on the same stage.

Tiffany Morgan, Michael Sung-Hom and Jeremy Harrison are also talented and offer fine performances.  I was beginning to be annoyed by Ms. Morgan’s aforementioned purring (really her character’s, of course), when suddenly something happens and Ms. Morgan’s Ellen becomes the most riveting, sympathetic character onstage.

What happened?  I can’t tell you, of course, except to remind parents that “Maple and Vine” would doubtless be R-rated.

There are sections of the play which lack dynamism or oomph; but I would imagine that’s been remedied by now, after opening night.  Quite frankly, I found playwright Harrison’s “Finn in the Underworld,” staged by the Express a few years ago, a more compelling play; but that’s just a personal reaction.

“Maple and Vine” sometimes reminds me of a Carol Burnett soap opera spoof (one could do worse); and sometimes it’s very thoughtful and serious indeed.  It’s an ambitious work, well-acted, and well worth seeing.

For tickets and information,visit actorsexpress.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.