Monthly Archive for: ‘May, 2017’

Dramatic comedy at College of Marin helps patrons escape to 1955

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★☆☆

Perfectly poised in 1955 garb is Ellen (Hana Bixler), lovingly held by her gay husband, Dean (Lucas Evans), in the dramedy, “Maple and Vine.” Photo by Robin Jackson.

I’d had an exceptionally grueling day before I went to see “Maple and Vine” at the College of Marin the other night.

So I was pooped and desperate to escape the craziness, busyness and techno-hellishness of my life.

The dramatic comedy’s protagonists, Katha and Ryu, to draw a palpable parallel, are a mixed-race couple burned out by modern life’s craziness, busyness and techno-hellishness.

But instead of fleeing their Manhattan home to see a play they join a cultish gated community that’s way off the beaten track and slightly out of its gourd, an alternate Midwestern society that’s laboriously recreated the year 1955 — the year I graduated from high school a guileless geek and virgin in a country being serenely run by ex-Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The couple’s two-hour, two-act tale of hoary and unforeseen anguish is rather funny.

In a dark way.

The dramedy was penned by Jordan Harrison, a prolific Stanford grad whose “Marjorie Prime” — which will thrust patrons not into that yesteryear decade I relished but back to the future — will be produced by the Marin Theatre Company in May.

Molly Noble, COM faculty member and founder of Marin’s Porchlight Theatre Company, directed “Maple and Vine.”

She excelled at coaxing the actors to expose sexual repression (such as oral sex guaranteed to evoke “feelings of shame and confusion”) and the elimination of freedom.

Sophia Harris plays Katha — who swaps her nightmarish book-editing job for comically nightmarish frilly housedresses, charades and membership on an “authenticity committee” — with zest even when depressed.

And Bau (Tuan) Tran portrays Ryu, a plastic surgeon who dumbs down and thrives as a successful assembly line box-folder/taper, with equal enthusiasm.

The extroverted Dean (Lucas Evans), a closeted homosexual who’s having an affair with Roger (Brad Markwick), assembly line floor manager, supervises the duo’s new environs — an as official of the so-called Society of Dynamic Obsolescence.

But it’s Hana Bixler as Ellen, Dean’s wife, that I found to be the standout actor in the cast of five.

Ranging from snooty and aloof to unexpectedly vulnerable.

Since I’d really been nurtured by the music of the ‘50s, I adored hearing a recorded overlay that included Patti Page singing “The Tennessee Waltz” and a jazzy horn soloist riffing on “My Funny Valentine,” which my wife and I just happen to nostalgically call “our song.”

As well as the Coke jingle reinvented by a six-member “shadow cast” of SDO members in the lobby during intermission.

That also was when a menacing, extremely tall dude with an extremely thin tie and extremely black suit plunged into a droll anti-Communist tirade.

I loved, too, that the Katha character, who amends her name to the more mundane Kathy, covers with a quip what had not-so-seamlessly been adopted: “It’s not a cult — they have nonprofit status.”

Yes, not all’s well in Mudville — er, the nameless town they’re living in. Racism runs rampant: Ryu’s interchangeably called a Jap and an Oriental.

But a movable set by Ronald Krempetz helps facilitate rapid character movement from background to foreground and back again.

And period costumes designed by Pamela Johnson (including the high heels Katha wears while cooking) help establish the mid-century mood.

The play’s focus on the days of “Ozzie & Harriet” — despite allusions to Kim Kardashian and “when a reality TV star becomes president” — essentially ensures that the play will draw a gray-haired audience, which it did when I attended (except for a handful of collegians in the rear).

I first saw “Maple and Vine” five years ago in an American Conservatory Theatre production. ACT’s way-back machine made it enjoyable for me, but catching it again at COM had a heightened impact — probably because I hadn’t want to escape to Ike’s America from Obama’s but do sometimes want to flee in terror from Trump’s.

“Maple and Vine” will play at the James Dunn Theatre’s Studio Theater, College of Marin, corner of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Laurel Avenue, Kentfield, only through May 21. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; matinee, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $10 to $20. Information: or 415-485-9385.

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