A Review of Maytag Virgin
by Cheryl Hall
Audrey Cefaly’s Maytag Virgin is successfully redefining romantic comedy by shelving the clichés of six figure salaries and high pressure careers. The lives of Cefaly’s characters; high school teachers in Lenoraville, Alabama are as interesting and complicated as those of the rich and glamorous. Director
Daniel Martin doesn’t rush his actors through their dialogue attempt to goad the audience into laughing. The play takes place over the course of one year. Martin recognizes that these characters need time to make awkward, cautious, sputtering explorations of each other. Instead of being a cycle, Maytag Virgin is a progression of rinse and repeat as “Lizzy” and “Mr. Key” learn how to trust themselves before they dare trust themselves with someone else.
The chemistry between Carolyn Messina’s “Lizzy” and John Mc Ginnis’ “Mr. Key” makes Cefaly’s sharp dialogue crackle as they explore the spark of an acquaintanceship long before it flames into the possibility of a relationship. “Lizzy” is an unrepentant hot mess. Carolyn Messina’s performance is a whirlwind of funny as she tests both social boundaries, and common sense by demanding that her neighbor change to suit her fancy. John McGinnis does not shrink from playing the straight man. “Mr. Key” is the strong silent type with the patience of Job. McGinnis deftly reimagines a stoic Average Joe into the dreamy guy next door who just might be attainable.
Hal McIntosh and Daniel Martin’s set design has staged a new precedent for Birmingham Festival Theatre productions. McIntosh and Martin clearly illustrate that this is the point where two worlds collide. “Lizzy’s” property is a combination of quirky/cute that only slightly teeters on the edge of kitsch. “Jack Key’s” adjoining property is lived in and well worn, almost to the point of despair. This production is solidly supported by effective Lighting Design by Mindy Egan and a team of Stage Hands and Dressers who precisely facilitate the quick transitions that fluidly compress time.
Audrey Cefaly is becoming today’s champion of the human experience by celebrating the value of “ordinary” people. Maytag Virgin gives its’ audience hope that romance is not contingent upon an address in an exclusive zip code; and that having a loving relationship is an accessible, equal opportunity experience.
A Review of Maytag Virgin
by Jack Cannon
An Exceptionally Rare Must See Love Story at Birmingham Festival Theatre
On Thursday night, February 7, Birmingham Festival Theatre opened their production of native Alabama playwright’s lyrical, hilarious and deeply moving play, MAYTAG VIRGIN. This beautiful story of life, death, and the patient, persistent and resilient need for the love of another person captivated the opening night audience in both laughter and tears for two and a half hours. MAYTAG VIRGIN is the story of two new next-door neighbors, Lizzy Nash, an English teacher on a yearlong sabbatical after the death of her husband to a work place accident and Jack Key, a Physics teacher who lost his wife to cancer. The back porches and yards of the two widowed teachers face each other, separated only by Lizzy’s clothesline, making it impossible for the two not to run into each other by accident and, as the play moves forward, increasingly by intentional design. It is not giving anything of the plot away to say the audience immediately realizes these two are destined to become deep friends and passionate lovers by the end of the play. You see it in the reactions and glances Lizzy and Jack share as they introduce themselves as new neighbors in the play’s first moments. The fun, laughter, pain and joy of the play comes from watching the two characters figure it out, denying that it is happening, and then finally falling into each other’s, yes arms, but more importantly souls.
Ceflay, a nationally emerging and award-winning playwright, sets MAYTAG VIRGIN in present day Lenoraville, a fictional small town in lower Alabama. Peppered in Southern lore and manners, Ceflay brings to life two ordinary, average middle-aged survivors of life. There is nothing extraordinary about Lizzy and Jack. They might as well be your next-door neighbors. This is typical of Cefaly’s characters. It is not who they are that captures the audiences’ hearts and minds. It is what they have suffered, their common pain, the desire of their hopes and longings, and their ability to survive life’s harshness that make the characters universal. We share their pain and joy because it is our pain and joy. We recognize ourselves, our own longings, our own failings, our own ability to risk and grow in Jack Key and Lizzy Nash. Jack is at first quiet and stoic, keeping to himself, not interested in talking about his past, but interested in keeping an eye on his next-door neighbor. Lizzy is talkative and nosey, eager to engage “Mr. Key” in endless conversation but also avoids talking about the tribulations of her past. As the seasons change, Jack opens up about his love for his former wife, the pain of taking care of her in sickness, and the struggle endured to live now alone. Lizzy, while constantly prying into the past of Jack, avoids talking about the strained relationship with her husband, the loneliness and rejection she faced as a young woman, preferring to hold her secrets close, not wanting to be hurt yet again by sharing her life with another person. But it is actually those moments of silence that Cefaly infuses into her simple plot that show the audience the changes, the shared pain, the growing trust and deeply felt love between two. One of those quiet moments comes in a heart-warming time-lapsed scene as they prepare for their first “date.” Jack has prepared a surprise meal celebrating the end of summer and Lizzy’s return to teaching at the local school. We see Jack struggling to set the perfect table and not being able to light the candles. We see Lizzy dressing and redressing for the evening, trying to look perfect for the man that has accepted her for who she is months ago. Yet, Cefaly’s dialogue is full of humor, lyrical and incisive in its exploration of love. When Jack and Lizzy finally open up fully, Cefaly’s words sting the heart and warm the soul revealing the deep hidden secrets of the two soon to be lover’s lives.
Birmingham Southern College alum, John McGinnis, plays Jack Key with a quiet but strong assuredness, full of charm, wit and sensitivity. McGinnis excels in the quiet, silent moments of his character, attentively listening and responding to Lizzy’s endless chattering and prodding questions. McGinnis’ subtle takes, grimaces and smiles lead to some of the biggest laughs of the evening. However, McGinnis’ moments of vulnerability highlight his power as an actor. His description of the final days with his dying wife and his ultimate expression of his love for Lizzy leave the audience in quiet tears of sorrow and then joy. University of Alabama at Birmingham alum, Carolyn Messina, stands toe to toe with McGinnis in her portrayal of Lizzy Nash. Messina has the most dialogue and speeches in the play and she handles the language with precision, dexterity and an ever-changing use of subtext and tone. Messina’s ability to elicit laughter in one moment and then immediately cause the audience to break out in tears is a rare gift and she uses it with finesse and flair. Messina finds the perfect balance of Lizzy continually falling ever deeper in love and shielding herself from the pain and risk of heartbreak that she associates with companionship. But what makes this two character play a tour de force in true professional acting is Messina and McGinnis’ ability to play off one another seamlessly, sharing each scene and living in the moment as if this is the first time the two had ever met. Their exceptional work culminates in the final fifteen minutes of the play. The opening night audience welled with tears of joy watching Lizzy and Jack, fully committed in love, facing the fears of an uncharted relationship, realizing that life would be meaningless without one another.
The production elements of MAYTAG VIRGIN are some of the best seen at BFT. The charming scene design is by Hal McIntosh and Daniel Martin, a warm lighting design by Mindy Egan, simple but real costumes by Sally Montgomery, and a smooth country/rock sound design by Cefaly and Martin puts you into heart of lower Alabama. A special mention goes out to Karin Callahan’s property design that is full of folk art, wind chimes, a bottle tree and a slew of various knickknacks found on people’s back porches. Daniel Martin skillfully directs the production with subtle staging that keeps the focus on the actors and its complex story of falling in love. MATAG VIRGIN continues its run February 8 through 23 at 8:00 pm with a Sunday, February 17 matinee at 2:00 pm, 1901 ½ 11TH Avenue South.
February is the month for love. MAYTAG VIRGIN is a unique love story. Purchase your tickets now, bring someone close and dear, and make sure you do not miss this rare and exceptional play.
A Review of Maytag Virgin
By Chuck Key
As the lights dimmed for the play, the elderly lady sitting to my right pulled out her knitting. Not only did I think that was a bit odd, but I had a fear that rushed through me that this was an omen. That, as a result of my long-term exposure to Carolyn's intense superstitions (don't you put a hat on a bed in HER house), I took a deep breath, shook off that negative cogitation and settled in to watch the stress & efforts of many months of preparation, bear fruit before my eyes. What came next blew me away.
From the moment Mr. Key comes on to his back porch, the play builds quickly and you feel drawn in like a bystander in a 3rd house of the neighborhood that overlooks Lizzy and Jack’s yards. I saw and felt the relationship grow as the underlying attraction, fears and history started to color both of their behaviors. I knew the play was not only drawing me in deep but the lady to my right knitted faster and leaned in to better catch the dialog. These two on stage set the hook in you easily and set it firmly and unlike a spectator wanting to quickly get to the intermission bar and throw back several to get through act two, not a soul tarried upon return.
I digress for a moment to say that I read parts in these plays several times, begrudgingly, prior to Carolyn going off for several weeks of rehearsals and doing the actual performances. My reading is strictly nuts and bolts to build up memory and speed in order to get to “off book” preparation (off book, for the numb of skull like myself is rehearsal from memory) but I don’t get much feel of the play, I, therefore, am just a tool. BUT when the second act begins, I and everyone around me was glued to the stage to see how this complex situation could possibly conclude in a happy ending. These two actors never let you stray from the back yard but make you understand a bit better that life’s ups and downs paint a picture, for better or worse, of what makes living important and worthwhile no matter what. Audrey Cefaly as a writer frequently exercises the ability to scatter feelings and buried emotional history to the point of sheer hopelessness, only to be gathered again in an understandable cradle of feeling and thought, that the audience will accept, understand and thoroughly enjoy.
After standing ovations and bows, I asked the lady about her knitting. It was to be a table runner. She said that it helps her concentrate on the characters and judging on her progress during the show, I figure her concentration knitted about 20% of her runner.
Maytag Virgin is a great play. Go see it and you will walk out feeling better about yourself and life in general. Maytag Virgin By Audrey Cefaly
Birmingham Festival Theater
1901 1/2 11th Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35205
Carolyn Messina as Lizzy
John McGinnis as Jack