You want to go see A.C.T.'s West Coast premiere of "Maple and Vine," with an emphasis on "see." Scenic designer Ralph Funicello has outdone himself -- in fact, the entire creative team of Alex Jaeger (costumes), Russell H. Champa (lights) and Jake Rodriguez (sound) have teamed up with Funicello to give us a visual and sonic masterpiece.
What's the show about? Well, hold on a minute. It is probably a sendup of today's overamped world of infinite choices, though it may also be a love story. The Society of Dynamic Obsolescence is probably not a veiled description of the Republican party, though it may be.
It's creepy. Act One makes your skin itch. At intermission everyone mills around asking each other what crazy thing is going to happen in Act Two? It has to, and it does, kind of, but if they would have answered some very basic questions the whole shebang would have made a lot more sense. Why, exactly, would a young Japanese-American doctor in 2012 choose to return to the segregated, mind-stultifying world of 1955 so he can work in a box factory? Are these people tuned into something we are missing, or are they all two olives short of a dirty martini?
It's fiction. What you're seeing on stage is so fascinating, and the visuals so compelling, that it's hard not to take it too seriously. Don't. Just revel in Funicello's flying houses and Jaeger's girdled-up cocktail dresses, in the intriguing concepts and questions raised (if not answered), and in author Jordan Harrison's wonderful lines like "What's a little hypertension if you're happy?"
Of the cast, Jullia Coffey as Ellen and Jamison Jones as Dean really grab our attention.
The other three actors (Emily Donahoe as Katha, Nelson Lee as Ryu and Danny Bernardy as Roger) all have their moments. Basically, we love the characters in the 1950s, where they have an eerie resonance. In the 21st Century -- not so much. We'd like to care a little more about them.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ DOUBLE BANG
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Maple and Vine" Three Stars with Two BANGLES OF PRAISE for Sets, Lights, Costume and Sound. Usually, two bangles would translate into an extra star, but the story doesn't really justify it. "Maple and Vine" is a quirky little story made into a grand production. It might play even better in a smaller venue, but you don't want to miss it exactly as it is.
NOTE: Don't buy the cheap seats for this show. You want to have a dubonnet and slide down onto that sofa.
"Maple and Vine"
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through April 22