BWW Reviews: Heart-warming 'MAYTAG VIRGIN' at Quotidian Theatre
Romance must be in the air-maybe it's the invigorating chill of fall weather and the crunch of leaves underfoot, but whatever the reason it's time for Quotidian to offer a heart-warmer of a play as its season opener. Quotidian's first show, a part of the Women's Voices Theater Festival, is a premiere of Audrey Cefaly's two-hander, Maytag Virgin. This tried-and-true plot of opposites attract is brought vividly two life by two stellar performers, and Cefaly's sturdy direction.
The story, set in the fictional town of Lenoraville, Alabama, is two parts Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart) and one part Lanford Wilson (he of Talley's Folly fame). You have all the charm and tang of a dialogue steeped in the Deep South, and from the moment you meet them you just know that this couple--strangers at first, in neighboring shotgun shacks--will sooner or later end up in each other's arms.
Of course, love at first sight is utterly boring to watch in real life--all canoodling and sickly-sweet endearments--and this being a full-length play we can't have the romance blossom until well into the second act, right? I mention this because the plot itself, the basic conceit, should be familiar to anyone who's been to the movies or the theatre any time in, say, the last century. So forget the plot; it's the emotional journey of Maytag Virgin, not the destination that gives it such a wallop.
Cefaly gives us two wounded souls, each widowed and each of them trying to get their lives back together. As luck would have it, they both happen to work at the same high school; but this is by no means any guarantee that they'll be a good match. The secrets they both harbor, and the secrets hidden in Jack's house, present seemingly insurmountable obstacles that both have to overcome.
To begin with you've got a bundle-of-nerves English teacher, Lizzie Nash (a truly luminous performance by Gillian Shelly), who is taking a 'sabbatical' year to mourn the loss of her husband. Her solitude is disturbed by the arrival of new neighbor, Jack Key, himself a widower (a solid, stoical Everyman turn by Will Hardy). Recently vacated by the demise of its elderly occupants, Jack's house has a history and more than its share of ghosts; but what really creeps Lizzie out is Jack's decision to keep his clothes dryer (the Maytag of the title) out on his front porch. Lizzie's more the line-hanging type, you see, and the noises coming from Jack's infernal contraption give her fits; his penchant for statuettes of the Virgin Mary hardly helps matters (Jack is a 'heathenish' Catholic, and Lizzie a 'light-footed' Baptist; again, a classic Southern recipe for disaster).
Cefaly writes with sympathy and a finely-sharpened wit, and has trained her stellar cast in the more genteel Southern dialect common to the middle classes-given the mixed bag we're likely to get in productions elsewhere, the consistency in dialect is a real plus. Scott Hengen provides us with the classic clapboard-and-porch look for both of the houses, complete with classic swinging screen doors; his work is enhanced immeasurably by Heather Brooks' taste in hangings and props-the Christmas scene with its bizarre tchotchkes, is a real hoot. Cefaly's taste in costumes, again for Christmas especially, remind us that even folks with university degrees get a little tacky sometimes, and love it.
Ed Moser provides an ongoing soundtrack of nice acoustic tunes (and Maytag sounds that can actually remind you why Lizzie has her fits). Sound cues between scenes can be magical; the choice to embellish an already-dramatic scene with music, as if we were in a Hallmark special or a Rom-Com, struck me as a bit odd. Perhaps it's a matter of personal taste, but given the exquisite acting here I wouldn't have minded if Shelly and Hardy could perform without musical interventions telling us how to feel, or - worse - telling them when to get all mushy.
Cefaly's work harmonizes perfectly with Quotidian's commitment to celebrating the beauty and poetry of everyday life and relationships. Their work with Chekhov and Horton Foote has already put them on the map, and I eagerly await their next collaboration with Cefaly, who has a lot to offer the Washington stage.
Production Photo: Will Hardy as Jack and Gillian Shelly as Lizzie (erm, Ms. Elizabeth Nash to you). Photography by Harvey Levine.
Maytag Virgin plays October 2-November 1 at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, Maryland. For tickets phone 1-800-838-3006, extension 1, or go to www.brownpapertickets.com.