Marin Ireland and Jeanine Serralles
in Maple and Vine
(© Joan Marcus)
Marin Ireland and Jeanine Serralles
in Maple and Vine
(© Joan Marcus)
Have you ever wanted to leave behind the hustle and bustle of 21st Century life? The characters in Jordan Harrison's delectably offbeat comedy-drama, Maple and Vine, at Playwrights Horizons, decide to do just that. However, the benefits of a seemingly simpler existence must be weighed against the personal freedoms and opportunities that are given up.

As the play opens, Katha (Marin Ireland) and husband Ryu (Peter Kim) are living successful but unfulfilling lives in Manhattan. Katha, in particular, is having a hard time getting back to "normal" following a miscarriage, and so when she meets a strange yet charismatic man named Dean (Trent Dawson), she's open to finding other possibilities that could lead to happiness.

Dean and his wife Ellen (Jeanine Serralles) are part of a historical reenactment organization called the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (SDO). While Ryu at first dismisses it as a cult, he agrees to join Katha at the SDO's gated community -- where the year is always 1955 -- for a trial period.

Ireland makes a gradual transformation from Katha's early angst-ridden persona to a more richly layered performance as the character acclimates to the SDO. In one scene, an exasperated Ryu grabs her in a somewhat violent fashion, then quickly apologizes. Ireland's Katha remains still for a moment, then says quietly, "No, that was good. You took charge. Remember, you can do that. You're the husband." The moment is positively chilling.

Kim is enormously likable as Ryu, possessing a genial smile that occasionally hides his more deeply seated emotions. As a Japanese American, Ryu has a rather unique place in this 1950s community, and some of playwright Harrison's best writing comes from the characters' attempts to fit him into their retro world. Ryu's backstory now includes forced internment within a Japanese American relocation camp during World War II, and he faces not so subtle racism in his advancement at the box factory where he now works.

Dawson has the clipped chipper vocal tones reminiscent of a 1950s television program down pat. His character is also much more complex than initially appears, and the actor is able to bring out the more conflicted emotions that Dean feels as he suppresses certain urges, or acts upon them guiltily.

Serralles delivers a subtly powerful performance as Ellen, who always seems to have so much going on underneath her outwardly calm façade. And when her mask inevitably slips, it's emotionally devastating.

Pedro Pascal plays two different characters: Omar, Katha's assistant in the "real" world, and Roger, Ryu's boss in the 1950s scenario, taking a completely different approach to the two men's vocal characteristics and body mannerisms. He is particularly good as the brooding Roger, who is leading a clandestine gay existence within the SDO.

Harrison blurs the line between play-acting and alternative lifestyle within Maple and Vine, constructing his play with a curious mix of satire and sincerity. At one moment, he seems to invite ridicule of the characters and their situations, but then he provides some compelling reasons for why they do what they do. The scenario he has devised is rich with possibility, and the fine cast under Anne Kauffman's smooth direction more than does it justice.