“Lu-ucy, You Got Some ‘Splainin’ To Do- What Are We Doing In 2013?”

With a bizarre, off the wall premise, “Maple and Vine” has found its way into the HotCity season and we can be glad it did. This upside down comedy by Jordan Harrison offers a trip back to 1955 thanks to an off-beat group called the Society for Dynamic Obsolescence or SDO for short. When a frustrated executive and her plastic surgeon husband decide to follow a charismatic member of SDO and his wife to this unusual community, things don’t go as planned.

Shanara Gabrielle as Katha and Alan C. David as Ryu, go over plans to go back to 1955 in HotCity's "Maple and Vine." Photo: Todd Studio's Photography

Shanara Gabrielle as Katha and Alan C. David as Ryu, go over plans to go back to 1955 in HotCity’s “Maple and Vine.” Photo: Todd Studio’s Photographysurgeon husband are approached by a husband and wife from this odd re-enactment group, they decide to throw caution to the wind and do a six-month trial at this small community where everyone lives as if it were 1955.

The idea, of course, is to throw away all of the technological entrapments of 2013 and live like Ozzie and Harriet or Lucy and Ricky. The simpler life with the husband as bread-winner and the wife eternally in pearls as she does the housework and cooks the meals, doesn’t exactly turn out that way. Katha, who has to change her name to Kathy to fit in the 1955 lifestyle and Ryu, who is Oriental and immediately distrusted but tolerated by post-war bigotry, aren’t exactly the mid-’50’s couple. As it turns out, neither are Ellen and Dean who persuaded them to take this journey. Dean, if fact, keeps a cell phone locked up in a drawer for emergencies.

We soon realize that people in our modern world may have fantasies about the “good old days,” but recapturing the elements of gentility, a simple lifestyle and a world with eternal goodness and light isn’t possible. In fact, the world they find full of racism, sexism, fear and skepticism is probably closer to what 1955 really was- it just wasn’t out in the open like our present amped up world with up-to-the-minute exposure to everyone else’s life, foibles and eccentricities.

Shanara Gabrielle is brilliant as the wife searching for something better than the dead-end job she feels she’s caught in. In fact, she quits her job in anticipation of her husband agreeing to this nostalgia trip. Alan C. David also shines as the surgeon who is tired of pumping up or reducing teen-age boobs for a living. As a couple, they struggle with their decision and then find life very confining until circumstances change their 1955 life completely.

Shanara Gabrielle, now as Kathy, talks on the rotary phone in the second act of "Maple and Vine" at HotCity Theatre. Photo: Todd Studio's Photography

Shanara Gabrielle, now as Kathy, talks on the rotary phone in the second act of “Maple and Vine” at HotCity Theatre. Photo: Todd Studio’s Photography

The wonderful Michelle Hand displays a breadth of talent as she plays both an office co-worker of Katha and the cheerful “Susie Homemaker” Ellen. Displaying the perfect ’50’s smile and gratuitous attitude, she charms us with her perky manner until the hammer gets dropped in the second act. It was fascinating to watch her in semi-darkness sitting at a kitchen table waiting for her philandering husband who is late again while a conversation is going on nearby between Katha and Ryu.

Playing her husband with a flair for ’50’s bombasity is Chad Morris. Like a snake oil salesman, he convinces Katha and Ryu to join them in 1955 and  soon reveals himself as the antithesis of the period in this not-so squeaky clean community. Bobby Suozzi rounds out the cast as an office employee in the present and a factory worker in the past. A fine ensemble cast that travel between past and present with agility.

Director Doug Finlayson has given the script the irony it deserves. He creates two separate worlds that soon meld into one. Scenic designer Sean Savoie has created a strong reality check for those of us who lived through the ’50’s with the help of properties master Meg Brinkley. The world they fashioned is incredible with vintage orange sofa and chair sets, an old metal kitchen table and a huge hi-fi console that takes up half the living room. The Michael Sullivan lighting design and the costumes of JC Krajicek, complete with petticoat undergarments, add to the atmosphere of “Maple and Vine.”

With a relatively short run- through May 18th- you’ll want to get to the Kranzberg Arts Center soon to catch this trip to the past. Contact HotCity at 314-289-4063 for tickets or more information on “Maple and Vine.”

Just another quick note- the vintage furniture is going on the auction block to be delivered the day after the final performance. If you’re interested, make a bid by contacting tickets@hotcitytheatre.org.

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