Maple and Vine

Katha (Christina Marie) and Ryu (C.J.Malloy) huddle together in bed below a projected caption announcing the sound of a brick crashing through a window, in New York Deaf Theatre’s presentation of Jordan Harrison’s Maple and Vine at the Flea Theater. Original photo by Conrado Johns.

By Andrew Andrews

The year is 1955, and here are some things you’ve never heard of: Hummus. Baba Ganoush. Falafel. Focaccia. Ciabatta. Whole grain bread.

Yes, not even whole-grain bread.

You’ll have to remember these things when you join the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence: a voluntary community that eschews the conveniences, diversity and—here’s the difficult part—tolerance of modern society, in exchange for a simpler, less overwhelming, more present life. It’s not a cult: you can leave whenever you want, but after the six-month trial period, most people choose to stay.

Katha (Christina Marie) and Ryu (C.J. Malloy) are going to give it a try. Katha has been unable to recover emotionally from the miscarriage of their first child, and Ryu, although eager to try again, spends so much time at work as a plastic surgeon that the couple hardly gets to see each other. Then, one day, after Katha up and quits her job, she bumps into a stranger named Dean (Christopher Corrigan) who tells her about this wonderful place—the S.D.O.—where first-world problems disappear because there simply isn’t time to notice them. And when Ryu, who’s reluctant at first, realizes that this might be the catalyst Katha needs to focus on starting a family again, he can’t help but agree to see what it’s like.

Of course, life in the S.D.O. has it’s own set of problems, especially for a mixed-race couple like Katha and Ryu, in the period between World War II and the Civil Rights Act. And for those who pine for “the good old days” when problems were “simpler” and—as Archie Bunker used to say—“girls were girls and men were men”—playwright Jordan Harrison (whose credits include Orange is the New Black) skillfully reminds us there’s a difference between not having any problems and sweeping them under the rug. And whether the idea of going back in time sounds appealing or appalling (which probably depends on your feelings toward hummus, whole-grain bread and any number of today’s modern “conveniences”), this is a story that is easy to get wrapped-up in, and you’ll be eager to find out whether Katha and Ryu ultimately stick with, or abandon, the idyllic S.D.O.

Beyond the story, what makes this production special is the company that presents it—New York Deaf Theatre—and their mission to deliver dramatic art in American Sign Language to deaf and hearing audience members in New York City. For those of us falling into the latter category, it’s a lot like watching a foreign film with subtitles: after a while, you kinda forget that you don’t know the language because you’re too caught up in the story, delivered by a talented cast (including Liarra Michelle and Dickie Hearts) under the guidance of an equally-skilled director (Jules Dameron). So-talented and so-skilled, in fact, that we would have easily given this show a five-star rating were it not for a few distracting timing issues between the captions and the action, and a run time that felt a little longer than we might have liked. But don’t let those “first world problems” dissuade you from attending, because we truly believe you’ll be singing the praises of this performance long after the applause has ended. So check it out, then come back here and tell us what you think of life in the S.D.O.! Whether you appreciate the opportunity to experience live theater in a different language or find the subtitles too difficult to follow, your reviews give others an idea of what to expect, and your ratings help us help you find future performances you’re sure to love!

4

Andrew Andrews attended Maple and Vine at Flea Theatre in New York on Sunday, May 13, 2018 @ 2:00pm to write this review.

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