In the jumble of Capital Stage’s new production “Maple and Vine,” one aspect will stand out: the extraordinary performance of Shannon Mahoney.
Mahoney has been delivering superbly detailed characters across a number of Sacramento stages for several years. Comfortably versatile across types and genres, the actress has an affable, disarming presence, committing a subtle physicality to her roles, moving with a fluid precision. She sparkled in dual roles in Capital Stage’s intriguing “Clybourne Park” last year and had memorable turns in roles as different as Toby, the aging beauty queen in Neil Simon’s ’70s comedy “The Gingerbread Lady,” and Sharla, the trailer-trash diva of Tracy Letts’ modern noir “Killer Joe.”
In Jordan Harrison’s alternately clever and frustrating dark comedy, Mahoney plays Ellen, the faithful, committed wife of Dean, who leads an unusual contemporary community of retro-minded people. Members of the group calling themselves the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence have returned to life in mid-’50s America. They’re partying like it’s 1955, to be exact, and they’re living that way as well.
Unlike weekend Civil War re-enactors, these folks aren’t going back to some regular life on Monday. They’ve committed themselves to a simpler life bereft of 24/7 digital convenience, without cellphones, email or Facebook. No lattes, sushi or manchego cheese. Ellen, Dean and those they recruit are unironically living the life of billowing dresses and Salisbury steak where a man’s home is his castle.
To make the experience as authentic as possible, the ’50s values of sexism, racism and homophobia are also present.
Joining this community are Katha and Ryu, two New Yorkers escaping the modern city grind. Stephanie Gularte’s desperately flailing Katha has quit her publishing job, unable to shake the recent loss of a child during pregnancy. She meets the charismatic Dean in the park, and he easily sells her on the SDO. Ryu, her plastic surgeon husband, is less enthusiastic about making the drastic change in their lives, but does so for his wife’s sake.
Harrison’s premise works stiffly up to this point, and in effective performances, Gularte and Wayne Lee, as her good-sport husband, flesh out the not particularly believable plot.
Jason Heil’s coolly smooth Dean also eases the journey into the convoluted neighborhood of “Maple and Vine.”
While the throwback world has a superficial allure, eventually the veneers are revealed as just that. Harrison’s agenda muddles the play’s second half as he tosses in a hackneyed backstory and some unconvincing Douglas Sirk melodrama for complications.
Peter Mohrmann’s brisk direction pushes through the numerous scene changes as the play’s tone shifts awkwardly from grinning satire to domestic drama.
Mahoney’s Ellen suggests the upright, uptight standards of the repressed era and the lifestyle’s overt tenseness with her rigid carriage, her two-handed grip on her purse and, most effectively, her wide eyes, which hold a moving sadness underneath it all.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.