By Ed Kliszus
What is a Maytag Virgin?
The title of Maytag Virgin seems a bit odd, with two words conjoined to infer a new meaning. Maybe it’s a type of oxymoron, humorous at least, and one wonders what connection there might be between an appliance and our story of a pair who, as author Audrey Cefaly notes, “cope[s] with personal tragedy and embrace[s] the healing power of connection, forgiveness, and renewal.” Perhaps the Maytag serves as both a laundry equipage and souvenir vestige of loss or simply a recondite metaphor of reliability.
Prescient, gentle country music with singers, guitar, banjo, bass, and fiddle begins as the audience settles down and latecomers are seated. Lights dim and rise moments later. We gaze at two placid front porches extending quaint, pleasant, modest homes to their adjacent backyards in Alabama.
Jack Key (Duke Lafoon) is just moving in with boxes and household items strewn about his porch, along with an imposing statue of the Virgin Mary. Welcoming him to the neighborhood from next door is Elizabeth ‘Lizzy’ Nash (Tyler Layton) with a fine-looking freshly baked pie in hand, probably an apple. She’s a bit voluble but charming, complaisant, and curious about Jack. Although somewhat taciturn, Jack is pleased with Lizzy’s visit. Lizzy cleverly asks many questions to draw the information she desires about what kind of neighbor has moved in next door. She is a widow, and Jack appears to be an available, single man. At this point, she’s a bit reticent and shares anecdotes about the couple living in Jack’s new home. She refers to the room where the last occupant expires and mysterious ghosts that may appear at night. We discover that Jack is a Catholic while Lizzy is a Protestant. They are both high school teachers in town, and Jack moved here to new surroundings to leave painful reminders behind. Over time, we discover much more about them.
The Virgin Mary. Jack installs a Maytag dryer on his porch, to Lizzy’s chagrin.
As time passes, holidays are particularly painful for two lonely people who have suffered loss. Jack lost his wife to disease, while Lizzy lost her husband to a construction accident. Neither has children, and Jack admits his fondness for children.
The story gradually, elaborately, and poignantly unfolds in an assiduously crafted literary effusion. It’s a dreamscape in which we sense loss tempered by hope. While we might guess where the story leads, the work’s genius is how Jack and Lizzy’s mutual attraction evolves through witty, subtle, clever, and humorous badinage of affection and reawakening that occurs over a year. Through Jack and Lizzy, we sympathize and are guided to feel, see, and participate in their vulnerability, regrets, hesitance, growing trust, and mutual attraction. We care about them and relent the passage of time and its ironically ephemeral nature. Our reward is to witness their survival and the inevitable product of love emerging from hope and circumstance.
Kudos to the production team for its carefully crafted sets, lighting, sound, and costumes. Country music occurring between scenes prompted reflection and nostalgia on what we just witnessed and experienced. Outdoor scenes were sensuously enriched with wind chimes, the singing of birds, and more.
Hats off to Tyler Layton and Duke Lafoon for telling the story and touching hearts through their craft.
People sitting nearby spoke of their anticipation for next season. There’s much more to come.
Maytag Virgin by Audrey Cefaly
Cast and Artistic
Starring Tyler Layton (Elizabeth Lizzy Nash) and Duke Lafoon (Jack Key). Director Greg Longenhagen, Set Designer Ray Recht, Costume Designer Alice Neff, Lighting Designer Todd O. Wren, Sound Designer Katie Lowe, and Stage Manager Janine Wochna.
Runtime is about 90 minutes with intermission.
Florida Rep Theatre
2268 Bay St.
Fort Myers, FL 33901