Williamston Theatre finds success in the details


Actors and Williamston Theatre co-founders John Lepard and Emily Sutton-Smith are pretty much the royal couple of the Lansing-area theater realm. Both have turned in so many memorable performances over the years that it may surprise local theatergoers that they haven’t performed together on stage since 2004. That 20-year streak has been broken with Williamston Theatre’s current production, “Maytag Virgin.”

Widower Jack Key (Lepard) moves in next door to recent widow Elizabeth “Lizzy” Nash (Sutton-Smith) and proceeds to upend her tidy life by being attractive and keeping a Maytag dryer on his porch. He flirts with her over the course of a year, but she keeps him at arm’s length until they share a tipsy night of revelations.

The potential for a historic production featuring this powerhouse couple is diminished by a weak script. Playwright Audrey Cefaly’s musings on loss and love are uneven, often plodding and ultimately predictable. The play isn’t funny enough to be a romantic comedy, nor is it deep enough to be a moving drama.

Many seemingly important plot points never reach fruition, and the wisdom that Cefaly seems to want to share about pursing love despite the pain that it can cause is trite at best and scattered at worst. The script fails to build any real tension, even in the drunken sharing scene. Sutton-Smith is engaging when finally revealing the truth about her marriage, but one good scene does not a compelling play make.

Despite the shortcomings of the script, the theatrical experience is solid. Williamston Theatre’s production staff is known for creating detailed environments that envelop the audience, and “Maytag Virgin” is no exception.

The play takes place in the yard between two houses, and the creative staff uses every inch of the stage to fit in two sizeable porches and a lawn, yet the space feels open. It’s all in the details. For instance, Nash’s beloved clothesline stretches across the venue, flying her clothes over the heads of the audience. The openness is further enhanced by scene designer Aaron Delnay’s lush backdrop that includes a full moon and neighboring houses painted up as greenery.

Adding to the experience is Julia Garlotte’s sound design, which features bird songs that are appropriate for the time of day of each scene. It’s a small detail that sets the mood, as does Shannon Schweitzer’s lighting design. Along with Michelle Raymond’s quaint and cozy props and set dressing, this team has created an atmosphere that makes one long to while away hours enjoying cold drinks on a hot day.

Also of note is the exhibit in the theater’s gallery space. The artwork, by a local collective called Art/5, complements the show well and is among the highest quality work to have graced the walls of the back lobby space.

Here’s hoping that Lepard and Sutton-Smith don’t wait another 20 years to share the stage — and that when they do perform together again, they raise the stakes. Who wouldn’t love to see this powerhouse couple go toe-to-toe in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” or “The Lion in Winter”?




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