As a remedy for her 21st-century ennui and depression, beaten-down New Yorker Katha seeks refuge in another time—the year 1955—and she persuades her reluctant plastic-surgeon spouse, Ryu, to escape with her. But Jordan Harrison's Maple and Vine, directed by Igor Goldin at Cygnet Theatre's Old Town space, is not a tale of time travel. Katha (Jo Anne Glover) and Ryu (Greg Watanabe) are instead whisked away to an unspecified gated community where everyone lives and behaves (at least at first) as if it's the "I Like Ike" middle America of 1955.
This fantasy land is maintained by the so-called Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (DSO), whose bubbly husband-and-wife figureheads, Dean (Jordan Miller) and Ellen (Amanda Sitton), are, though they deny it, like a younger Ward and June Cleaver without the Beaver. It's a contrived, spotty premise that works if you accept it as illusion.
Maple and Vine's overarching messages about the nature of authenticity and the irony of pretending are muddled with ongoing, overly busy commentaries on the World War II-era treatment of Japanese-Americans, intolerance of mixed-race couples (like Katha and Ryu) and homosexuality (actually, Dean is definitely not Ward Cleaver). It's also unclear, given various and seemingly conflicting junctures in the play, whether Katha and Ryu are happier in their new 1955 life. They ultimately appear to be so, though a stagy Katha nightmare near the end casts shadows of doubt.
An excellent five-member cast nevertheless navigates the script's holes and U-turns. Miller and Sitton make the most out of characters who are not what they seem to be, and they inhabit their "perfect" '50s couple roles without coming off as robotic. Supporting cast member Mike Nardelli distinguishes himself in two roles, as Katha's cartoonishly wry gay co-worker Omar and the more complex and tormented Roger, Dean's illicit lover in '50s land.
Maple and Vine entertains most when it's juxtaposing the societal icons of today with those of Ozzie & Harriet's G-rated epoch of naïveté. In the latter, for example, "Google" is quite literally a dirty word. That's as it should be, but that's a commentary for another play at another time.
Maple and Vine runs through Feb. 16 at Old Town Theatre. $24-$54. cygnettheatre.com
A Doll House: A woman's been keeping a secret from her husband, and when he discovers it, he gets angry and she decides to leave him and their children. Presented by UCSD's Department of Theatre and Dance, it opens Jan. 29 at the Mandell Weiss Forum Theatre at UCSD. theatre.ucsd.edu
Circle Mirror Transformation: The San Diego premiere of a comedy about a group of Vermonters who enroll in a summer theater class. In the process, these strangers get to know one another. Opens in previews Jan. 31 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Macbeth: A Scottish general's wife convinces her husband to kill the king so that he can take the throne, and it doesn't end well for either of them. Presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company, it opens Jan. 31 at San Dieguito Academy Performing Arts Centre in Encinitas. intrepidshakespeare.com
Other Desert Cities: A novelist visits her famous parents in Palm Springs amid her plans to publish a memoir that unearths an unpleasant family secret. Opens Jan. 31 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Fiddler on the Roof : A milkman tries to keep his family's traditions in place and marry off his three daughters as the Russian Revolution threatens to gain steam. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Feb. 2 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. lambsplayers.com
Who Am I This Time? (And Other Conundrums of Love) : Three love stories adapted from the early work of author Kurt Vonnegut. Through Feb. 2 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Bug : A motel-dwelling cocktail waitress begins an affair with a war veteran and takes on his conspiracy theories. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it runs through Feb. 8 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Nunsense : A group of nuns stage a variety show to raise money for the burials of the convent dwellers who were poisoned to death by the cook. Presented by Moonlight Stage Productions, it runs through Feb. 9 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Maple and Vine : The Southern California premiere of a play about an unhappy 21st-century married couple who join a community that completely relives the 1950s. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Feb. 16 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
The Fox on the Fairway : A country-club president bets on a golf tournament but loses his ringer to the other side and replaces him with a young employee who happens to be awesome at golf. Sounds a little like Caddyshack . Through Feb. 22 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Bethany : The West Coast premiere of a drama about an down-on-her-luck car saleswoman who squats in a foreclosed home as she tries to reunite with her daughter. Through Feb. 23 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Chicago : An oft-produced musical set in the 1920s about two murderous, fame-seeking women who wind up on death row. Through Feb. 23 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Five Course Love : Whimsical love stories play out at tables in five different restaurants. Through Feb. 23 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Crumbs from the Table of Joy : It's 1950 in Brooklyn, and a grieving black widower has found puritanical religion, uprooted his teenage daughters from Florida and married a white German. Through March 2 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
The Foreigner : A comedy about a sad Brit, a guest at a Georgia fishing lodge, who pretends to speak no English so he doesn't have to talk to anyone and ends up having to save the lodge from the Ku Klux Klan. Through March 2 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
The 39 Steps : This is a return engagement of a comedic, four-actor stage version of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, as if performed by Monty Python, with lots of allusions to other Hitchcock classics. Presented by Lamb's Players Theatre, it's ongoing at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial Hous in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net