Canadian scripter Michele Riml is fortunate to have such accomplished pros as film/stage vets Frances Fisher and Paul Ben-Victor inhabiting the personas of sexually challenged mid-lifers Alice and Henry, respectively, in the U.S. premiere of Riml’s thematically meandering “Sexy Laundry.” Fisher and Ben-Victor inject a captivating veracity into the chaotic machinations of a husband and wife desperately trying the reignite the coital spark after 25 years of marriage. Helmer Gary Blumsack’s adroit and intuitive staging underscores every nuance of the often-arbitrary shifting emotional dynamics within this conjugal pas de deux.
All the action is set in the upscale hotel suite (impressively realized by Joel Daavid) that Alice is positive will provide the proper atmosphere for her all-out campaign to resurrect Henry’s declining libido and their once-thriving love life. To boost the odds, Alice has brought along a copy of Sex for Dummies, which Henry gazes on with suspicion and dread.
Riml is so determined to incorporate the full range of middle-age marital concerns into the proceedings, actual intercourse is relegated to a side issue. Though there are some comically zesty attempts at raciness, including Alice’s fantasies about multiple sex partners at an Italian cafe and her hilarious effort to assume a dominatrix persona, this legiter is mainly focused on the deep-rooted resentments and disappointments that have insidiously undermined their relationship over the years.
In rounds of angst and ire, Alice and Henry snipe at and harangue each other through a rehash of marital ruts and potholes that have left them both spiritually spent. Fortunately, Fisher and Ben-Victor are more than up to the task of realizing all the emotional twists and turns while investing a rollicking humor into the Alice/Henry travails. Their interplay could be likened to an intertwining of Martha and George (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?”) with Roseanne and Dan (TV’s “Roseanne”).
Fisher offers a superlative portrayal of a go-to woman who has spent a marital lifetime taking charge of her family, picking up the slack from her distracted hubby. In a virtuoso display of vitriol, she unleashes a hilariously venomous attack when Henry dares to offer commentary on the one area of her body that has escaped her control.
Ben-Victor is a study in perplexed dissatisfaction that is as sad as it is flat-out funny. Through most of Riml’s shifting scenario, he wears Henry’s feelings of professional resentment and failure like a suit of armor that won’t allow Alice’s marital complaints to penetrate. It is a tribute to Ben-Victor’s craftsmanship that Henry’s emotional turnaround in the perplexing final scene makes the scripter’s feel-good ending actually seem plausible.