This is rich material for social commentary as well as humor. We see the transition through the world of a high-powered couple in NYC who rarely have quality time together, are super-stressed at their jobs (plastic surgeon, publishing house editor), and are still reeling from a miscarriage. The first act includes asides from the couple who serve as ambassadors and even recruiters for the alternative lifestyle. I enjoyed these intercuts a lot, especially since I didn't know where they were going with this.
Wilson Hardcastle, Julia Coffey, Jamison Jones, Nelson Lee and Randy Taradash
I loved the show all the way around. A couple of my friends found it a little heavy handed with its point, but I have to disagree as I believe there were multiple and conflicting points to be made. The material here is rich for thought and discussion, which made for a lively intermission, but it wasn't just the play that was excellent—it was the entire production. The acting was again a stellar performance on the ACT stage, with the wonderfully dry Julia Coffey returning from her skilled turn in Once in a Lifetime (the show I was calling "High Waisted Fast Talkers!"). She seems made for early/mid 20th century period pieces. Her timing is perfect. It should not be a competition, but there are only so many roles for strong women on the stage, and Julia Coffey is giving Rene Augesen a run for her money. Maybe they should try a performance of All About Eve.
The acting in this show really was some of the best I've enjoyed, so much so you I didn't notice that what felt like a crowded New York and a busy little town were populated only by these five actors. There were other stars of this play besides the talent: the set design and the lighting. There's an argument to be made that, like special effects, good design should go unnoticed. But Ralph Funicello managed to create fully rallied scenes with only minimal ingredients. The New York City scrim was just unbelievable in its entirely believability, and the interiors both apartment and house required only two or three pieces, which glided effortlessly into place, to create the setting for the scenes. I was impressed how he was able to paint an entire scape with only a few gestures. Similarly well executed but often unsung was the lighting design by Russell H. Champa—both scenery and lighting were so well done as to be invisible and immersive. Additional applause to the ACT wig shop. That woman is just incredible.
But back to the show: fun and funny with unexpected (well, I saw the big one coming, but that's me) twists. How would you fare in 1955: no technology, overt racism, and severely defined gender roles. From one point of view, those are all good things. There are things you talk about and things you don't—and you know what they are. There is confidence in knowing what you are supposed to do, even it if it hard work—being the breadwinner at a factory or spending eight hours making chicken stock and having dinner on the table for when your loving husband gets home. The couple we follow down the road to Maple and Vine are a mixed race couple, and just after the internment camps of WWII, life in 1955 America is a little different for an "oriental." But even the challenges of adjusting to 1955 are seen as a good thing. Striving for "authenticity" together brings couples closer, and creates a shared bonding experience through the struggle. And then there is the issue of homosexuality. We don't talk about that. Which makes it much more exciting. There are things we talk about, and things we only talk about in innuendo. One of the ideas of the play is that some things have become too easy, and so they have lost being worthwhile.
Danny Bernardy and Kevin Koberle________________Darrin Martin and Matt Sudbury
Unfortunately, I have been too busy to write up my experiences and get this post up before the show closed on Saturday. They had hoped to be extended but the stage is reserved for something else. ACT's marketing was pretty clever for this one too, with some cleverly conceived post/e-cards.
A few more notes on the cast: with an ensemble of five they populate the stage with a great deal of talent. I've already said how much I love Julia Coffey and I look forward to what she does next, but I hope she stays with this production for its continued success. Leading Man Jamison Jones is a skilled man's man on stage as well, with the strong handsomeness that will take him far (curse his married heterosexuality!). As with almost all of the actors in this show, I was taken with how large they seem on stage, compared to how incredibly minuscule they seemed in person. Granted I'm pushing 6'3" and at 250 lbs., most of them could hide inside me for warmth like an unconscious Luke Skywalker in a dead tan-tan if entirely necessary. The diminutive Nelson Lee makes up for whatever inaccurately perceived shortcomings of height in his fluid ability to fill a role. I recognized him from his television work playing walk-ons in network fare from Law & Order: Criminal Intent to Covert Affairs. Jones too has an extensive television CV as well as his weightier stage work. Danny Bernardy rounds out the cast with flexibility and brazenness which is often a joy to watch. And he handles the balance of drama and comedy quite well. These were incredibly fun people to watch on stage and I was glad they joined the Out with ACT patrons after the show.
One last cast note. I did not write about Once in a Lifetime as I saw it the night before I had to fly home for my father's ultimately final trip to the hospital. But it was an extensive and incredibly well produced show. Looking at the program for Maple & Vine, I noted that Nick Gabriel is an understudy for this show. I imagine for Danny Bernady as the guy has some seriously sharp comic chops. According to the notes, Nick Gabriel was in Scorched (again, another recent ACT fuck-yeah of a show with an incredibly minimal cast). I didn't really take note of his performance in Scorched as we were all a bit distracted by the Holy Shit which was the story line. But the program bio also tells me he was Miss Leighton in Once in a Lifetime. Miss Leighton was the 20s movie mogul's receptionist, played in drag, and stole the fucking show lock, stock and barrel. Oh Lord I hope he stays with this new play as it becomes a national success as I would love to see what he does with the role.
There are some truly clever lines in Maple & Vine, and the cast turn them adroitly. Even the careful dropping of a couple F bombs when you least expect them. Kevin and I were almost giddy after the first act. After getting our intermission cocktails and returning to our seats, I leaned over and said, "I am loving this show." To which he replied, "I know. I can't wait for it to go off the rails!"
The pins had been set up in Act I, and we knew the strike was coming in Act II.
We were not disappointed.