Welcome to the neighborhood, here’s a pie. So begins our entry into the Alabama neighborhood of Maytag Virgin, or, more specifically, the shared grounds between two houses (one intricately decorated, one in disrepair). Quotidian Theatre Company produced this work for the Women Playwrights’ Festival, with playwright Aubrey Cefaly serving double-duty as director.
The first act follows Alabama schoolteacher Lizzie (Gillian Shelly) and her new neighbor, Jack (Will Hardy). They have both lost a spouse, and as if the aftermath of death isn’t already lingering, the house Jack moves into was the site of two recent deaths—first a woman and then her husband, presumably of a broken heart.
While both characters share residence of a neighborhood and a fragile state, Lizzie’s has rendered her a neurotic chatterbox—or perhaps she tilted that way to begin with. A whirlwind of nervous energy who doesn’t believe in clothes dryers, Lizzie has taken some bereavement time away from work and looks to her new neighbor for conversation and activity. Jack, meanwhile, seems even-keeled and reserved, though conspicuously attracted to Lizzie. Only through his behaviors—sleeping on the back porch most nights, constantly stashing boxes behind the house or on the porch–do we sense the restlessness beneath, and how profoundly grief has changed him. They are similar creatures—even in their chosen profession, teaching—with vastly different expressions of their circumstances and coping.
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival
October 2 – November 1, 2015
at The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20817
2 hours with 1 intermission
Fridays thru Sundays
Both Shelly and Hardy were perfectly cast in these roles. They play well off each other, with an authenticity and chemistry that feels very natural. (Which is especially important, since they comprise the entire cast.) Their interactions have the right formula of both tenderness and awkwardness, and it is a pleasure to watch them fumble their way through a friendship that evolves, slowly, into something more.
For something so preoccupied with death, grieving, and moving on, it is important to state that this is primarily a comedy. This is both to the credit of the script and to Shelly, who brings Lizzie to life with Southern sass and charm.
As we often see with world premieres, the script could benefit from some tightening. This is especially true toward the end of the second act—after the requisite airing of truths, a little kissing and a lot of yelling, the play seems to lose momentum, and it gets slightly tedious to fall back into the “will they/won’t they” pattern, even as we know Lizzie and Jack will ultimately get together. Their defenses—established quite early in the play—wash away at the close of one scene, only to resurface in full force when the lights fade up for the next. While at once there is something very human about this backslide, it does foster a slight impatience as audiences wait for the inevitable.
Ultimately, Maytag Virgin is a witty and earnest meditation on how people connect even when they feel they’re not ready, and what it is to move on while honoring and remembering the things, and people, who came before.
Maytag Virgin . written and directed by Audrey Cefaly . Featuring Gillian Shelly and William Hardy . Produced by Quotidian Theatre . Reviewed by Jennifer Clements.