Nov 23, 2011

Stepping Up With a Throwback

New Yorker illustration by Pascal Blanchet

I was one of the few critics who unreservedly loved Jordan Harrison's last play at Playwrights Horizons, Doris to Darlene, a Cautionary Valentine. But Maple and Vine, which I saw at Humana in April, felt like a breakthrough work for the 34-year-old playwright.

In researching and talking to him and his collaborators for this Times piece, in anticipation of the play's current Playwrights production, I discovered at least one reason why this play feels like a departure: It began its life as a Civilians project by director Anne Kauffman, and still contains germs of interviews the troupe conducted with real-life off-the-gridders, which gave Harrison his premise (a contemporary couple flees their rootless, neurotic contemporary lives to join a community of 1950s reenactors).

The combination of Harrison's seriously fanciful imagination, which earns him frequent comparison to Sarah Ruhl (he did also study at Brown with Paula Vogel), with the bracing, too-odd-to-be-fictional documentary material may partly explain Maple's exceptional richness and ambivalence. It could also be that Harrison has simply grown into a major playwright. Whatever the case, I can't wait to see the New York cast dig into this (though I'm quite delighted that Kauffman kept the inimitable Jeanine Serralles, one of only two holdovers from the Louisville cast, as the play's mesmerizing and forbidding authenticity enforcer).

No comments: