The great staple of comedy is the mid-life marital crisis, and Canadian playwright Michele Riml has added to the genre with Sexy Laundry. a two-character play about a wife seeking to rejuvenate sexuality by booking a room in an upscale hotel tor her husband and herself -- and bringing along a "how-to" book.
Alice and Henry make a very attractive couple, and you might be delighted to be seated next to them at a dinner party. She is elegant, slender, and highly articulate, and he is sincere and agreeable, though so unenthused about the "rejuvenation" project that it's hard to imagine why he agreed to it. The very good news is that the actors playing them both have warmth and charm, and can turn what might be bickering in other hands into comfortably light banter.
Susan Koozin plays Alice and is wonderful as a controlling woman, still quite beautiful, though with doubts about her looks. She wants her own way -- a woman has needs -- but prefers to get there by gentle urging rather than harsh demands. Josh Morrison plays Henry as a less complicated human being, a husband and father of three, whose idea of a good time is to watch the news on returning from work. They are celebrating, if that is the word, 25 years of marriage.
The bed is center-stage in the very attractive set by Kristina Miller, and it looms invitingly, a magnet for Alice and a jousting battleground for Henry. The play begins as a romantic comedy, but about halfway through its 85-minute journey, more serious matters emerge, and it appears that reality might intrude on the comedy. And then it veers into farce, as Alice engages in behavior that is comical, though out-of-character with her dignity.
Each actor has been given an acting challenge, a chance to shine at a solo. Alice at one point describes a treadmill gym encounter with younger women that is hilarious, and Koozin more than does it justice. And Henry has a solo dance that Morrison turns into a subtle and enchanting act of courageous commitment.
There is a passage of extended dialogue about Alice having put on a few pounds, which captures one's attention chiefly because Koozin is so fit as to arouse envy.
The lighting design by Bryan Ealey plays an important part, and is excellent. The direction by Kenn McLaughlin is impeccable, as all the movements seem natural, and he has evoked the acting charm that makes this endeavor worthwhile.
Sexy Laundry is, curiously, not sexy, preferring to dance around the prospect of sexual encounters, while poking fun at them -- it is not the first play to trivialize sex while pretending to exalt it. But the comedy works, and I had a smile on my face for most of the time, though the sobering moment when the tone first shifted was like being slapped with a dead fish. Playwright Riml's invention seems to have failed her at crucial points, and I would hate to see this comedy with less-gifted actors. But, with Koozin and Morrison, it pays off handsomely.
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This is a regional premiere, and Sexy Laundry has been widely translated. A sequel, Henry and Alice: Into the Wild, will be produced in April in Vancouver, British Columbia, so we may not have seen the last of Alice and Henry.
Gifted actors find the humor and rich comedy in a mid-life marital crisis, and carry us along with them on a most pleasant theatrical journey.
Sexy Laundry continues through March 16, at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For information or ticketing, call 713-527-0123 or contact www.stagestheatre.com.