By Michele Riml. Directed by Andrew McIlroy. An Arts Club Theatre production in association with the Belfry Theatre.
At the Arts Club Granville Island Stage until November 13
A lot of mainstream comedy doesn't make sense to me. Maybe it's because of the kind of fag I am. So much material that's intended to be witty depends on the supposedly biologically determined--and hilarious!--personality differences between men and women. I don't intend to speak for all queerdom, but to this girlyboy those differences seem culturally constructed. So I didn't have much fun with Michele Riml's play Sexy Laundry.
Riml's script isn't overtly about gender, but gender stereotypes provide much of the fuel for its innocuous romantic story. The premise is that Alice and Henry, who are middle-aged and married, have booked into a luxury hotel to revive their sex life and their relationship. Alice is the "typical wife" as that character has been defined in far too many standup routines: manipulative, demanding, overly emotional, and a nonstop talker. And Henry is the standard men-are-from-Mars husband: uncommunicative and wrapped up in his work. Sure, lots of people experience their lives in this way, but it's such a limited--and limiting--viewpoint. Instead of pandering to audience prejudices, why not shake things up when you've got the chance?
The couple's concerns are disappointingly predictable: Alice is ashamed of the weight she has gained; Henry feels less of a man because his career has stalled. Yes, real people suffer in these terms, but they've provided fodder for popular culture for years, and they're tired. The story doesn't surprise, either. Riml floats the notion that Alice and Henry might divorce, but I never took that seriously for a moment.
It amazes me that actors Susinn McFarlen and Allan Morgan manage to put so much convincing flesh on so few thematic bones. Under Andrew McIlroy's direction, McFarlen digs deep, filling in the script's blanks with such an authentic sense of Alice's humiliation that she makes an unattractive character much more sympathetic. Morgan delivers too; when his Henry finally breaks, you'd have to be made of stone not to feel for the guy. Onto this base of credibility, the players layer exquisite timing and an affectionate sense of fun.
The playwright does give them some great lines to deliver, including Alice's desperate cry: "What's happened to me? I never used to care how you chewed!" The architecture of the piece--its dramatic arc--is reasonably sound. And Riml uses a simple device that brings the evening to a poignant conclusion: Henry repeats a speech from earlier in the play and suddenly we understand it in its true, loving context.
Still, stage business that had some other audience members howling left me cold. Alice says "fuck" and she attempts to act like a dominatrix. Henry dances real silly. These are poor facsimiles of genuine release.