Addison — She: We could just cuddle.
He: Oh, God.
The pleasures of theater are many and variable. It’s a treat to be carried off into a stage world (and world-view) that isn’t our own. But there’s also the “oh, my” shock of seeing ourselves onstage, an experience that can be edifying, mortifying, clarifying—and very funny.
Sexy Laundry at WaterTower Theatre chooses all of the above, but concentrates on comedy—with some hard-won wisdom thrown in, lest we feel too cheap about having laughed our rears off all the way through the show.
Bob Hess and Wendy Welch are awkward, hilarious, and genuine as Henry and Alice, married (with children) for 25 years and counting. The place? A swank hotel room. The purpose? A weekend of sexy shenanigans to revive their marriage. The props? Ah, don’t get excited. For now it’s just the two of them in PJs, staring at a library copy of Sex for Dummies.
Need we say this is Alice’s idea?
WaterTower ’s cheerfully tarted-up production is a regional premiere for Michele Riml’s play—first seen in 2002 at the Vancouver Fringe Festival— which has had multiple runs in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Why so popular? Just consider the ready-made audience: married people, plus their friends and relations. Right—pretty much the entire population of the globe.
All through the opening night performance in WTT’s studio space, couples of a certain age nudged and nodded at one another. That’s you up there—no, that’s us! You’re never happy—like her! You never listen—like him! A rueful glance here, a shoulder pat there, a comforting back rub when (from the looks of it) some lines onstage hit too close to home.
Henry doesn’t want to be here. Alice thinks they’re in a rut—and that trying something new (she’s marked some “exercises” in the book) might strike sparks in a marriage whose flames are burning low. She talks a mile a minute about the state of their union; he doesn’t, at the beginning, seem to have much to say.
You probably know 75 percent of where this play is going: shared fantasies, sexy lingerie, awkward nuzzling of body parts. It’s all more amiable than edgy, just like (aha!) the status quo of a good marriage. But Welch and Hess get us rooting for their characters, and playwright Riml breaks into the predictable action with some imaginative “riffs”—dueling rants spoken from opposite sides of the stage, fantasies Henry and Alice will (or won’t) share.
And though we can guess this is a story that ends well, we’re left wondering about the “how” right up to the finish, in which reality proves even sexier than fantasy.
Director Terry Martin and assistant director Diana Sheehan show a light touch with the script; set designer Jason Harris knows his way around the burgundies and browns of classy hotel décor; and kudos to designer Bryant Yeager for imaginative lighting effects that find separate emotional “territories” within this single-room set.
You might expect to be squirming a bit at the visuals of this show—do we really want to see folks over a certain age doing it?—but all of that is kept to a polite PG-13 simmer. No, it’s the “hitting you where you live” truths about long-running marriages that might make you twitch in your seat, and be glad (or sorry) that you’re seeing it with your beloved.
It’s way funny—and a bit too true.