Center Stage: ‘Maytag Virgin’ is hopeful, uplifting escape for audiences

Center Stage: ‘Maytag Virgin’ is hopeful, uplifting escape for audiences

By MARSHA WAGNER – | May 17, 2022
“Maytag Virgin,” the season’s final show for the Florida Repertory Theatre that is playing till May 29, is exactly what Artistic Director Greg Longenhagen hoped it would be: a hopeful, uplifting escape for the audience in these trying times. Playwright Audrey Cefaly has crafted a two-person play that is a compelling tale, which touches on both grief and romance, deftly explaining how these two diverse emotions can not only occur together, but they can also even somehow intermingle in a sort of emotional perplexity. This internal muddle is exactly what drives the play in such a simple and truthful way. The blossoming of love, despite the odds against it, is what keeps the audience in its grip. Furthermore, Cefaly’s choice to write about older characters — not unlike the audiences attending — helps give this simple story’s premise greater depth. For example, Cefaly draws on the stubborn insecurities, fears and trepidations as experienced by the senior male and female characters. These people would certainly have already grappled and dealt with these sorts of issues, and in doing so, built up defenses against this sort of emotional pain.

Though the premise is not exactly complicated, it happens more and more in our ever-expanding older population of newly retired, widowed seniors moving into our warmer climes and retirement housing areas, and then meeting their new senior neighbors already living there. The simple plot may not be new or surprising to senior audiences since many of us did exactly that; decide to move to a warmer climate like Florida when we retired, became widowed, or just wanted a change of scenery and a more relaxed lifestyle. The theme is not exactly new or complicated, and in the hands of a lessor playwright, actors and director it might have easily fallen flat and become dull and tiresome. But this is not the case! Thankfully, Florida Rep’s version of “Maytag Virgin” never loses its wit, vim, vigor or spark. Cefaly’s fine crisp writing, along with Logenhagen’s tight direction and outstanding acting by Duke Lafoon and Tyler Layton, make the simple story blossom into a wonderful love story, well told, brilliantly acted and completely without gooey sentimentality.

Lafoon is making an auspicious Florida Rep debut, giving his character Jack (the newly moved-in widowed neighbor) a great deal of genuine southern charm that is totally irresistible. He dishes out the perfect amount of warmth and encouragement, which is just enough to help his tightly wound neighbor Lizzy (Layton) to loosen up a bit and come out of her shell. Layton, a returning Florida Rep performer, imbues her character with just the right amount of brashness without neglecting those moments of genuine tenderness. Her Lizzy feels hurt deeply but does not know what to do with that kind of pain, except cling to it. She is aching to have a man like Jack in her life, but she is scared to death of what might happen if she lets him into her life. Does any of this sound familiar?

Like I stated before, “Maytag Virgin” is not complicated or new, but without the precise direction of Longenhagen and sensitive performances of Lafoon and Layton, it would be dull and predictable. The Florida Rep version of this two-actor comedy simply invites the audience to savor the vigor and spark existing in everyday people living and everyday life. This production of “Maytag Virgin” pushes the boundaries of everyday life into a compelling two-person tale about grief and romance, exploring how these two extremes can mix, intermingle and even create new possibilities for living a better life.

All in all, the play has a neat clear message, a reminder to “Live in the present!” This time the present is the gift of love. Wow! What a lovely, simple profound message in these troubling times in our world.

Thank you, Florida Rep, for the perfect reminder. Now if ya’ll need a shot of love and hope, my suggestion is to go to the phone right now, dial the box office at 239-332-4488 and make your reservation to experience “Maytag Virgin.” Remember when you phone to tell ’em Marsha sent you!