theatre review

by Michele Riml
Arts Club, Granville Island Stage
March 24-April 23
$27.50 - 33.50
Ticket Master (604.280.3311)

The Arts Club remounts its Fall 2004 production of Sexy Laundry on March 24-April 23 at the Granville Island Stage with Kevin McNulty, Susinn McFarlen's real life husband, replacing Allan Morgan as McFarlen's onstage husband. Below is Jerry's review of the original production, which appeared last October.

A middle aged, upper middle class couple, Henry and Alice, are having marital problems. After 25 years it’s gone so stale they can’t even remember the last time they had sex. So she’s asked him to come away on a dirty weekend to an upscale hotel room where they’ll try to revitalize their relationship. She’s brought along a handbook, Sex for Dummies, and a willingness to try things. He’s brought only his bad attitude—it’s a stupid idea, he’s never heard of such a thing, how dare the hotel charge so much and provide such flimsy towels, “nothing’s as good as it could be—that’s life!” They share their erotic fantasies, exchange recriminations, and take turns confessing the details of their personal mid-life crises as the play moves from comic to serious and back again. After the first five minutes, you know how it's going to end.

Michele Riml’s play has some virtues. There are a lot of truths about what happens to people in long-term relationships in the catalogue of complaints that the two level against one another. Her erotic fantasy is both moving and kind of sad, as is her story of exhilaration and humiliation at the gym. Susinn McFarlen makes Alice’s fear of aging very compelling and she’s also extremely funny in a dominatrix outfit. Henry has a couple of great crowd-pleasing moments of physical comedy near the end, which Allan Morgan makes the most of.

But so much more about this play doesn’t work at all. For one thing it’s a victim of its genre, the love-hate two-hander in which quarreling and dramatic tension must be pushed to the point where one or both people threaten to, or actually do, leave; but because it’s a two-hander, we know that they can’t really leave or the play will be over. So even though Henry calls Alice a controlling bitch and tells her to go fuck herself, the farthest she can go is the bathroom. The play twists itself in knots to keep her in the scene, and in the process her character loses credibility.

What keeps Henry from leaving is an even more shamelessly artificial device. He’s supposed to be an engineer, but he can’t operate a stereo remote. His character is just a caricature of pomposity, repression and insensitivity—a period cartoon. Give him a British accent and he’d be Colonel Blimp. As it is, he’s Ralph Kramden, barking out an exasperated “Alice!” every few minutes. Trouble is, the play is set in the present. Morgan does the best he can with an impossible role. Andrew McIlroy’s production on Shawn Derksen’s colourful but somewhat cheesy hotel room set generates some laughs but never solves the crucial credibility problems.

Cultivating and producing local playwrights has been one of the Arts Club’s real virtues over the years. And they’ve had some great successes with homegrown comedies like Sherman Snukal’s Talking Dirty and John Lazarus’ The Late Blumer that examined sex and social mores in the context of contemporary Vancouver. Sexy Laundry may look superficially like them, but it’s just not ready for prime time.

Jerry Wasserman



last updated: Monday, February 28, 2005 10:06 AM
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