Reviewed by Stephen Radosh
Dezarts Performs has chosen to end their season with MAYTAG VIRGIN by Audrey Cefaly and what a great choice it is!
Described by the author as a Southern Love Story, it is that but it is so much more. Jack Key (Joel Bryant) has just moved into the house next door to Elizabeth “Lizzy” Nash (Kay Capasso). They are both teachers at the same school and both have lost a spouse. Lizzy is ending a one-year sabbatical taken to get over her grief or at least recover enough to get back to work. Jack has moved to this small town in Alabama to escape the death of his wife which still haunts him only to discover that the house he has moved into has some ghosts of its own. Clearly, these two intelligent people have been wounded and have collected some extra baggage along the way.
Anyway, Jack has installed his Maytag on the porch, a choice which really irritates Lizzy and gives the play its title. As the seasons change, so does their relationship. The emotional undercurrents of these two people are revealed layer by layer like a peeling onion as they head towards the inevitable romance sealed with a passionate kiss.
It’s not the plot that is the strong point of this wonderful play. It is one that has been the backbone of so many romantic-comedies which have preceded it. It is the universality of the needs, yearnings and wounds that make the play as touching and moving as it is. But that is not to imply that the play is heavy, dark or even treacly. Cefaly’s writing is full of laugh-out-loud moments. She has created two characters who are believable, or even more to the point, people with whom virtually anyone can identify. After all, at the most basic level, we all want to love and be loved in return.
Deborah Harmon’s direction couldn’t be better. Her own excellent comic timing as an actress is clearly on display in her staging. Never overdone, her actors do takes, leers and bits of physical comedy which feel totally natural and of the moment thus making them all the more laugh inducing. And what wonderful actors they are. With his good looking yet vulnerable face and a physique that does not get unnoticed, Joel Bryant’s Jack is a genuinely nice guy who has everyone rooting for him right from the start. When he finally drops his brave façade to show us the scared little boy beneath (he even curls up on the couch in a fetal position) he creates a moment that is truly touching in its honesty. As Lizzy, Kay Capasso is utter perfection. From her flawless (and consistent) accent to her impeccable comic timing she is a presence that is impossible to ignore. When at the end of the first act her Lizzy steps out from the shelter of the porch during a rainstorm, arms outstretched and head tilted back, it is at once an act of child-like simplicity as well as one of symbolic cleansing of the soul. It is a beautifully haunting image.
The set, lighting and beautifully subtle audio by Thomas L. Valach, Phil Murphy and Clark Dugger, respectively, is possibly their finest work I have seen to date. Bravos all around.
So do yourself a favor and buy a ticket to MAYTAG VIRGIN and feel the love!
It runs through April 14, 2019 at the Pearl McManus Theatre at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club. For further information and to order tickets, visit www.DezartsPerforms.org.