Jordan Harrison’s ’Maple and Vine’ Comes to ACT
We all like having choices. At least, we think we do. But choices mean making decisions, and the more choices, the more decisions to be made.
Maple and Vine, Jordan Harrison’s play at ACT, creates a haven of reduction, a place where contemporary achievers can sign up to live according to Father Knows Best roles and rules. "One character says the word ’repression’ is not a bad word," the playwright said recently from New York. "It’s like repression is actually a complicated and satisfying thing for the residents to portray."
These would be the residents of a closed-off community run by the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence, where it is forever the mid-1950s. "The play is certainly not trying to say that things were better then," Harrison said. "The dark twist is that this is not a fully nuanced warts-and-all kind of 1950s. Now when we see an Ozzie and Harriet episode, we assume it’s a veneer and wonder what’s hidden beneath that. The characters enjoy that tension of what you present to the world and what you live behind closed doors."
There is a significant gay element that comes to light in this dynamic, but Harrison asked that it be described in generalities. "The B.A.R. is a gay publication, and it makes sense to reference that some of the characters are gay, but I hope we can keep it a little bit in the fog," he said. "I do like how it can sneak up on audiences."
Harrison, 34, is a prolific and widely produced playwright who lives in Brooklyn with his partner of almost seven years, director Adam Greenfield. "We just took the plunge, and bought a place," he said.
The original idea behind Maple and Vine came out of a series of interviews done by Civilians Investigative Theatre as its members explored groups who have opted out of modern society. Anne Kauffman of New York’s Playwrights Horizons gave Harrison the material as the basis for a new play, and after several attempts at trying to be reverent to the source material, he started over by creating his own characters and situations. What the play does share with the original interviews is, Harrison said, "how it can actually be freeing to exist with those walls and boundaries."
SF audiences have had the chance to see two previous Harrison plays. In 2005, Berkeley Rep presented the world premiere of Finn in the Underworld, a dark ghost story with a forbidden gay relationship at its core, and Act a Lady, which Harrison wrote as a commission for a theater in rural Minneapolis. It was based on historical photos he found in the town’s museum that depicted a drag show in which wives helped their husbands to be as authentically feminine as possible. Act a Lady has had numerous productions, including a 2009 staging at New Conservatory Theatre Center.
As for Maple and Vine, ACT’s Artistic Director Carey Perloff became interested when she saw its premiere production at Louisville’s Humana Festival last year. It also helped, Harrison speculated, that he and ACT’s Mark Rucker, who is directing Maple and Vine, have the same agent.
Harrison has two new projects in the works. One is a commission from Playwrights Horizons, and the second is a musical about William Moulton Marston. Marston, who died in 1947, co-created the Wonder Woman character, helped develop the polygraph test, was a feminist scholar, and lived in a polyamorous relationship with two women.
Many of Harrison’s plays are set in the past or, like Maple and Vine, have a retro consciousness. "I wouldn’t say this is the chief reason I write in period, but I do think there is a preoccupation with being closeted in a time when people didn’t even use the word ’closeted’ - of not being able to express desire, or having to express it in coded terms. That’s what it felt like when I was a 16 year-old growing up in the Pacific Northwest. Daring to be outward with your affections is a very fertile theme for me."
Maple and Vine runs through April 22. Tickets at www.act-sf.org.
Lyrics by Ira
George and Ira Gershwin were a songwriting team nonpareil that abruptly ended when younger brother George died in 1937 at age 38. But a devastated Ira carried on for three more decades, providing lyrics to music by a series of stellar composers. Those songs are at the heart of The Man That Got Away: Ira Without George, a narrated revue playing April 13-15 at JCCSF’s Kanbar Hall.
The narration was written and will be presented by the iconic entertainment journalist Rex Reed, with 27 songs offered by TV and stage personalities Gregory Harrison, Sally Mayes, Linda Purl, and Kurt Reichenbach.
Reed first presented The Man That Got Away in 2009 as part of the 92nd Street Y’s Lyrics and Lyricists series in New York, and has since toured it through Texas. Tickets to its West Coast premiere are available at 292-1233 or www.jccsf.org.