“In Pursuit of Happiness: At the Corner of Maple and Vine”
By Jocelyn L. Buckner, Dramaturg
In today’s media and screen obsessed culture, we are constantly online, linked in, plugged in, and connected to family, friends, strangers, celebrities, and a countless array of news and entertainment sources. Constant connectivity is meant to make us feel as though we are part of a community, though we may never see or meet many of the individuals we interact with, cyber stalk, or follow online on a daily basis. Online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter constantly prompt users to snap selfies with their smart phones, check into locales, and upload clever status updates to their profiles in an effort to execute the perfect performance of a happy life for scores of online viewers to affirm with the click of a “Like.” Avatar programs such as Second Life invite users to create and maintain an online identity and life completely separate from their real world existence. This allows users to virtually create a “second life” in which they make different choices and have different experiences and relationships than their “first life” circumstances allow. These sorts of technologies are touted as essential tools to achieve fully realized new millennium communication, community, and a sense of self. But how exactly have they altered our everyday existence? Are we more attuned to the details of life, or are we missing moments by attempting to capture and document them on a screen? Is a mediated life a happy one?
So…what if you could opt out?
In Maple and Vine, each character is in pursuit of happiness, and attempts to find it by leaving the fast-paced world of the 2010s and stepping back into a supposedly simpler time: the year 1955. Leaving the hustle and bustle of New York for the slower, enclosed community lifestyle of the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence in the Midwest, Katha and Ryu learn to live with less, and by doing so find themselves engaging in a more meaningful and attentive marriage. But is this the perfect life? What luxuries, political ideologies, and convictions must they abandon in order to embrace a life of social conformity, less sophisticated culinary dishes, repression underscored by open racism and sexism, and nosy neighbors? Is creating a dossier for a new life in an era of regulated compliance to an acceptable, standardized norm really “happier” than life in an era in which you can digitally perfect the image of yourself that you share with the world, or even create an entirely new life altogether?
Or…is the search for happiness a timeless venture?
1955 may seem radically different from the present day, but it is the year in which our contemporary American lifestyle begins. In addition to the cultural references in the script, 1955 is also the year I Love Lucy rises in popularity, Elvis Presley’s performances spark riots, and James Dean stars in East of Eden. It is the year McDonald’s opens its first restaurant, Disneyland opens, and the Mickey Mouse Club premieres on ABC. It is also the year Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery AL, marking the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. 1955 is the apex of the idyllic postwar era, and the dawning of the postmodern age to come. Is it any wonder then, that Katha and Ryu retreat to 1955 in order to find happiness? But is it a happier time? Or, is happiness found by disengaging from the societal pressures of any period, and instead focusing on what matters most – each other?