Maple and Vine is a disturbingly realistic portrayal of what might happen if you could abandon your iPhone, daily latte and personal vibrator and retreat to a gated community where everyone lives as if it’s 1955. That’s just what happens in Jordan Harrison’s 2011 play, presented by CoHo in an uneven but provocative production directed by Megan Kate Ward. New York City power couple Katha, a publishing executive, and Ryu, a plastic surgeon, find themselves overwhelmed by a late-term miscarriage and the anonymity that comes with life in the big city, so they give it up for a world where she becomes a kitchen-bound housewife and he can’t be anything more than a box maker thanks to his race. But why? Harrison fails to investigate why the couple would make such an extreme choice, and this jarring decision is aggravated by Heath Hyun Houghton and Melissa Schenter's self-conscious and stagy portrayal of their characters’ depression, with Houghton at one point confusing angry, full-body shaking for the paralyzing grief his lines suggest.
Interestingly, though, the actors’ self-conscious staginess works in the second act: Once they acknowledge the ridiculousness of the decision to live in an artificially halted world, they’re freer to connect with the audience. There’s plenty else here to redeem the production, including the charming period-appropriate dialogue (“Oh, Dean, sometimes you just razz my berries”), Spencer Conway’s captivating turn as a man who becomes heartbreakingly aware of how living in the gated community has changed him, and the overarching examination of how to live purposefully.
GO: Maple and Vine is at CoHo Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh St. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through May 24. $15-$25. Tickets here.