Russell Berrigan as Henry and Maura O’Brien as Alice in The Public Theatre’s “Sexy Laundry.”  Submitted photo

LEWISTON — The title of The Public Theatre’s current production, “Sexy Laundry,” is a wily play on words; the performance is a brilliant play OF words.

Please, take your seat and study the stage prior to the opening scene. A lush hotel bedroom is the setting for this two-party tour de force. Red, the color of passion, is predominant in the modern decor. Black-framed abstract modern paintings adorn every wall. The red carpet almost glows, especially around the central bed backed by an imposing geometric crimson headboard.

As you take in the set, background music sets a middle-aged mood with a soundtrack of classic romantic melodies. It is here that Alice and Henry will delight you as they gradually reinvigorate their ardor for one another; a passion that has cooled with the passage of time and the rigors of careers and raising a family.

Alice has planned a romantic weekend at a luxurious, expensive hotel to rekindle the spark in a now comfortable, predictable, humdrum 25-year marriage.

As the play opens, it is apparent Henry has reluctantly acceded to Alice’s design. With male tentativeness, he inexpertly attempts to give Alice a relaxing massage. The library has supplied Alice with “Sex for Dummies,” a playbook of “assignments” that Alice hopes will renew the desires of yore.

Maura O’Brien as Alice and Russell Berrigan as Henry are simply superb as they take us on a roller-coaster ride of hearty laughs and dramatic gasps. As the couple attempts to put into practice the sex tips outlined in Alice’s book, the distinct difference between men and women in their approach to romance and life becomes the primary theme. Often hilarious, sometimes painfully personal, this theme rings loud and true as O’Brien and Berrigan expertly bring their characters to life with depth and soul.

“Sexy Laundry” crackles with witty and insightful dialogue as conceived by playwright Michele Riml of Canada. Public Theatre’s Janet Mitchko directs with an innate and astute understanding of the characters, their motives and moods. Unconventional laughs abound; early on a hearty belly laugh is evoked with the line “would Wonder Woman pass the cream corn?” One can only relish such clever writing and eagerly watch and listen for more. And more is delivered minute to minute as this riveting play flies by in the hands of these two fine actors.

The title’s play on words soon becomes apparent. The actors’ masterful delivery of dialogue and action, at first genuinely funny, believable and engaging turns to chillier places as “Sexy Laundry” becomes the airing of “dirty laundry” between Alice and Henry.

Anyone who is or has been married for more than a month will have to acknowledge the honesty of the points of view and contention that Alice and Henry display. Everyone else, if honest about it, will see something of themselves in the couple’s attempts to truly understand one another even after decades together. Along their journey, the pair roams the warm landscape of good-natured banter, wanders into the rougher terrain of bickering, then stumbles spitefully into the darker dominion of button pushing a la “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

Together, O’Brien and Berrigan are completely believable and convincingly powerful as a married couple staking out their marital positions. They are wonderfully comfortable with each other in tender moments and convincing in confrontational ones as they elicit an honest essence of marriage to one another.

Singularly, O’Brien presents a wonderfully uproarious and self- deprecating monologue about her foray to the gym, “Fitness Universe,” to regain her youthful self. This hilariously portrayed scene alone is worth the price of admission. But in an unexpected twist to her recounting of this uproarious tale, she blurts out that she wants a divorce at the conclusion of Act I.

As Act II commences, Alice takes refuge in the shower as Henry muses and fumes about the unexpected prospect of divorce. He starts to pack; he paces, then seeks refuge in television, his security blanket, only to be raucously thwarted by the technology of too many unfamiliar remote controls in the hotel room. Left to his own thoughts, he begins to contemplate the advantages of becoming single again.

In an ingenious split-screen image, in which Henry and Alice each imagine a life without the other, a large wall painting suddenly becomes transparent revealing Alice in the bathroom while Henry sits in the bedroom. She is surveying thoughts of a life alone and seeking affirmation for her decision to seek divorce. Simultaneously Henry struggles to imagine a carefree life at sea on a sailboat. What ensues is a parallel back and forth between the pair, each unaware of the other’s soliloquy. Slowly each of them develop plans that wind back to include the other. The transparent window returns to a painting and Henry is again alone in the room while Alice remains in the bath.

The remote controls once again enter into the picture, but this time Henry’s frustration has subsided and a new demeanor, born of his prior thoughts, overtakes him. A slow pantomime follows as Henry manifests a gentle forfeiture to his aversion to dance. He begins to lose his inhibitions to an ever louder and more insistent recording of the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You.” In a fine piece of physical acting, Berrigan, as Henry, gradually progresses from “dance” moves that are gawky, hesitant and awkward, to a full, cocky, triumphant Mick Jagger strut.

Discarding another of the shortcomings about which Alice continually nags, Henry impulsively and out of character calls room service, ordering expensive champagne for two and . . . a rose.

Shortly thereafter, Alice emerges from the bath in a bawdy finale that whips up loose ends. Wonderful dialogue here brings the two together again in harmony as doubts and disappointments are reconciled and supplanted by the love and life together that has sustained them.

Sexy Laundry’s remaining performances are Thursday, Jan. 30, through Saturday, Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m., with additional matinees on Saturday, Feb. 1, at 2 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 2, at 3 p.m.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.