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THEATER REVIEW: “Maple And Vine”

“I used to make it through half the day without talking to a single soul. And now, looking back, I realize how lonely I was.”

That’s Dean (Jordan Miller), speaking to new possible recruits for the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence (SDO), a gated community where residents pretend it’s 1955, back when computers, cell phones and texting didn’t exist and people had to actually interact with each other.

Playwright Jordan Harrison asks us to consider what we’ve lost in the age of technology and whether we were better off as human beings back in the “I Like Ike” era.

Harrison takes a modern couple – plastic surgeon Ryu (Greg Watanabe) and Random House editor Katha (Jo Anne Glover) to the SDO and lets us watch what happens in “Maple And Vine,” playing through Feb. 16 at Cygnet Theatre.

When Ryu and Katha move to SDO, Dean’s perfect ’50s wife Ellen (Amanda Sitton) takes Katha (called Kathy at SDO) under her wing, tossing Kathy’s wardrobe items made of synthetics while explaining that the SDO strives for “authenticity.”

Kathy learns to make chicken stock (a seven-hour process, she tells Ryu) and the difference between chopping and dicing (“Dice means I only cut off a small piece of my finger”).

Ryu learns the ropes on the factory assembly line, where Roger (Mike Nardelli) teaches him to assemble a box and offer this advice about ’50s gender roles: “I’ve seen guys come here, they’re used to letting their wives wear the pants. Guys who don’t learn to wear the pants, they don’t fit in too well.”

There are provocative concepts here – gender roles, boundaries, authenticity, even familiar modern complaints like “people today can’t think straight because there are so many distractions” – but Harrison hasn’t given us the best vehicle to explore them. “Maple And Vine” is redundant, frankly a little boring (which I suppose could be defended on the grounds that the ’50s were like that), but the script needs more food for thought and fewer cooking tips.

But you can’t fault this beautifully mounted production. Sean Fanning’s set – using Cygnet’s new turntable – is a wonder, and makes the frequent scene changes seamless.

Jeanne Reith’s attention to detail and her terrific period-right costumes capture the look perfectly.

Michelle Caron’s lighting is excellent, as is Kevin Anthenill’s sound design.

This is a top-notch cast, well-directed by Igor Goldin. Glover’s Katha transforms amusingly from hard-driving editor to Betty Crocker housewife.

Jordan Miller is amusing as Dean – and reminds me of a few time-share condo salesmen I’ve heard.

Sitton is picture-perfect as Dean’s wife Ellen. She doubles in the present as Valley Girl-sounding Random House employee Jenna.

Mike Nardelli is likewise double cast – as Katha’s gay assistant Omar and as SDO factory floor manager Roger.

Watanabe – seen too rarely on local stages – is a welcome presence as Ryu, though the notion that a surgeon would agree to “become” a blue-collar factory worker strains credulity.

Then again, Katha is subject to bad dreams. This whole play may just be one of them.

Einstein reportedly said, “It has become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity." Though he was talking about the atomic bomb, his observation has wider implications today. That great play remains to be written.

The details

"Maple And Vine" plays through Feb. 16 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town in San Diego.

Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (619) 337-1525 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.