By Harriet Heithaus
Naples Daily News
November 9, 2017
Jell-o salads loaded with shredded cabbage and carrots. Ugh. The visit from the bakery truck that brought fresh cinnamon rolls and breads to your door twice a week. Aahh!
The prospect of wearing a white shirt and tie every day to work or hosiery snapped, like laundry, to the ubiquitous female contraption known as a girdle. Ugh. The billowy skirts, the sophistication of men in fedoras. Aahh!
The condescending attitude of TV to women and children. The idea that females didn’t need college because work force life would be temporary. The notion that there could be no such thing as homosexuality in our neighborhood.
Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
“Maple and Vine” goes dumpster diving into the 1950s with a premise that is unusual, but beguiling: A current-day cult that calls itself the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence has set up its own closed community, with its own mores, hierarchy, even food and clothing from that chipper-to-the-max era. Their 21st century technology has been shelved — or rather put in a drawer, as the sole community member who owns a cellphone has done.
Yet, this Naples Players production intimates that if you go home again, you may find the furniture too small. The Players’ artistic director, Bryce Alexander, chose to direct this one — “selfishly,” he admits — because he found it so fascinating.
“It’s sort of examining the old idea that the grass is always greener. It’s about nostalgia and the way our memories can cloud the imagination,” he said. Alexander pointed out that playwright Jordan Harrison has laid out the benefits as well as the disadvantages as mind prods: There was a certain freedom from choice when you knew you would be wearing a shirt and tie five days a week or that hat, shoes and gloves must match.
Yet the royalty of the household male and the lack of the crowd-think this group seeks to escape can become painful. When 9/11 happens these characters Saran-wrap themselves in denial to avoid the 21st century”s soul-searching and sheer panic
“That information sharing is a big part of the show, with them being in complete privation in the 50s. We forget the sense of togetherness that social media can bring us now during troubles.They don’t have that wider sense of community,” he said.
Overt racism and homophobia are also endemic to the times: The warped culture becomes strangling for characters like Ellen, who senses the Society’s antidote to the frenzy of 21st-century life may be more toxic than tonic.
Alexander wasn’t the only Naples Players staff member who jumped at the chance to work with “Maple and Vine.” Jessica Walck,Naples Players associate artistic director, took the role of Ellen, wife of the Society’s patriarch.
“It’s definitely a cheerful role, but what I love about it is there is so much going on underneath,” she said. “It’s the ’50s, and we’re just so happy. The word du jour for her is repression.”
Walck describes the two female characters in “Maple and Vine” as in contrasting arcs. Whereas Katha (Tina Moroni) finds fulfillment, and the pregnancy she and her husband have wanted, Ellen is beginning to find the psychic reins leaving red marks.
“And there’s this point in the play you can see at which the two arcs cross, one on the way up, the other on the way down,” she said. Walck said she had been nudging Naples Players toward this play for three years.
I kept putting it on tables and saying ‘Hey, read this,” she said. “I thought it would be a nice balance of nostalgia and thought-provoking theater.”
She observed that the 1950s has that allure of simplicity, deceptive though it is. Even people who haven’t lived in it find it alluring.
“I like the ’50s costumes. I’ve always loved that time frame as far as pop culture,” she said.
Dan Bacalzo, who plays one of the central characters in “Maple and Vine,” has an longer experience with it than Walck. Bacalzo, an assistant professor of theater at FGCU, actually reviewed the play for the web magazine Theater Mania when it came to New York in 2011.
“Having seen the play and knowing what it was about was certainly a factor in my wanting to be in it,” said Bacalzo, who answered questions via email. “I love the script. The premise is so unusual, but also theatrically compelling.”
Bacalzo agreed there were not only shifts in society from 1955 to 2011, in the height of a recession in the U.S., when the play was published; there have been shifts again in the political and social environment..
“There is an added relevance, I think. There currently seems to be a heightened sense of nostalgia for a time and a way of life that perhaps never really existed. But what’s interesting about the play is that it draws you into the promise of a less complicated life, and then exposes some of the societal issues affecting the 1950s,” he wrote.
“Some of that is overt. Some of it is fairly subtle. It’s really quite a slyly subversive play, and we get gasps from the audience every night as certain things are said or revealed.”
What: Naples Players’ production of the Jordan Harrison drama
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 19
Where: Sugden Community Theatre, 701 Fifth Ave. S, Naples
Tickets: $40, $10 students and educators
To buy: Box office, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays; phone (239) 263-7990; online at naplesplayers.org