Last night I attended the opening of Globe Theatre (Regina’s professional theatre-in-the-round)’s latest mainstage offering, Sexy Laundry, directed by Ruth Smillie, in order to review it for CBC Radio’s Afternoon Edition today. Here’s the script I sent them. (It’s not really a transcript, because I didn’t read this word for word, but it’s the gist.)
Short version: I enjoyed Sexy Laundry very much.
Q. So tell me, Ed, was there laundry, and was it sexy?
A. There was laundry…but only in the metaphorical sense, not in the literal sense. And certainly sex plays a central role.
Q. Metaphorical laundry centered around sex? Maybe you’d better tell us what the play is about.
Maybe I’d better. Sexy Laundry, by Canadian playwright Michele Riml, is set in a swank hotel room occupied by a middle-aged couple. Alice, the wife, has rented the room for herself and her husband, Henry, in the hopes of rekindling some passion in their 25-year-old marriage. To accomplish that task, she’s brought along Sex for Dummies, not to mention a few unusual clothing items and accessories.
In between attempting various exercises from the book, Alice and Henry hash out a lot of things and discover a lot about each other they didn’t know before…
Q. That’s where the metaphorical laundry comes in?
Yes, the title is, I think, a play on the phrase “airing your dirty laundry,” as in letting it all hang out and revealing things that are usually hidden…in this case, from your spouse.
Q. Tell me about the cast, and the performances. Are there just the two actors?
Yes, it’s what they call a two-hander, and of course the premise is perfect for that.
The husband and wife, Henry and Alice Lane, are played by David Ferry and Valerie Planche, respectively. The characters are 50 years old, and the actors are in that neighborhood themselves–which means, in practical terms, that they’re both extremely experienced. You feel in solid hands throughout with seasoned veterans in these roles…and both are excellent.
Planche brings a wonderful mixture of confusion, vulnerability and desperation to the role. She’s been married 25 years, she wonders if her husband is still sexually attracted to her, and she wonders what happened to the young woman she remembers being but no longer sees in the mirror. Planche puts this all together perfectly so that you’re utterly sympathetic to the character of Alice even if you think she’s being unreasonable at times in her demands on her husband…
…and by saying that, of course, I’ve just established firmly that I’m a guy, because I suspect this is a play that men and women will experience differently, particularly married men and women, and that women may not think Alice is being unreasonable at all.
One of the terrific things about the play is the way that it captures the thoughts and fears and conversations and arguments common to all couples that have been married, no matter how happily, for a long time. I suspect every couple is going to hear echoes of things they’ve said or thought (or thought about saying) themselves.
Ferry is just as good as Henry. He’s an engineer, a practical man. He doesn’t like dancing, he doesn’t see the point of flowers (I think my favorite exchange in the play is when Henry says of flowers, “you spend fifty dollars on them and then they die,” and Alice snaps back, “I’ve spent 25 years with you and you’re just going to die, too, but I still like having you around.”) and he’s liable to go off on a rant about thin towels just when they’re trying to get intimate. But he does love his wife, even if she exasperates him, and he’s got his own reasons for the way he’s been shortchanging their relationship that come out over the course of the play.
Also, he does a mean Mick Jagger impersonation.
This play would fail if you couldn’t believe the two actors as a long-married couple, comfortable and familiar and intimate with each other. With Farry and Planche in the roles, that’s never a problem. They have great chemistry on stage.
Q. You mentioned that the play takes place in a swank hotel room. What’s the set like?
It’s very simple, but captures the feeling of what’s referred to in the script as a “synthesis of eastern design and western sensibility.” There’s a bed, of course, as the centerpiece. Then there’s a kind of double-sided cabinet that serves as the TV stand/dresser in the room on one side and the vanity of the bathroom on the other, side tables, a couple of chairs, a telephone desk. The colour scheme is red, black, purple, gray, muted but elegant. There’s even lush gray carpet on the stage, which is bit unusual in a Globe set, but of course completely appropriate, and since the actors are mostly barefoot throughout, I’m sure much appreciated on their part!
The set and costumes (pajamas for Henry, and a couple of types of lingerie for Alice) were both designed by Dana Osborne. Lighting is by Louise Guinand, and it, too, is subtle (except for one very funny segment when Henry discovers that the room has an alarming selection of mood lighting/sound effects) but effective. At one point Henry is surfing TV channels, and although there’s no TV on the set, you can see the flicker of the light from the different channels reflected on his face.
Sound in the form of appropriate (or, in the aforementioned segment with Henry, wildly inappropriate) snatches of songs also plays an important role in the play, and Jeremy Sauer did a great job in that area, as always.
Q. Some of what you’ve described sounds a little…heavy. But the title is funny. Is Sexy Laundry a comedy?
Absolutely. I laughed a lot, and so did everyone else in the audience. But it also has very serious moments, and despite all the laugh lines and humor–some of it straight-out slapstick–Alice and Henry are very definitely real people with the same kinds of problems and concerns we all have in the real world. They’re not caricatures or clowns. And that’s what lifts the play above the kind of farces we’ve all seen in dinner theatres about arguing couples and makes it much more compelling and rewarding.
Last night’s audience gave it a standing ovation, and I think it deserved it. It’s not a play for kids–aside from the fact they won’t get half the humor (and explaining the humor they didn’t get could get a little awkward), there’s a bit of strong language in it. But if you’re an adult, and especially if you’re an adult who has been married to another adult for any length of time, you’ll enjoy Sexy Laundry.
Heck, it might even convince you to rent a swank hotel room and go buy a copy of Sex for Dummies.