Lizzy Nash and Jack Key have been hung out to dry by life.
Both suffered unrelated tragedies, and when we meet them, they are twisting in the wind of fictional Lenoraville, Alabama, where both are high school teachers.
It’s not the most likely of scenarios for a romantic comedy, but Emerald Coast Theatre Co.’s bold new production of “Maytag Virgin” will make you believe second chances are possible.
Producing Artistic Director Nathanael Fisher invited me to an early look at the show during a dress rehearsal Sunday afternoon. As much as I love the classics, Fisher’s fresh approach to choosing shows is engaging.
I’d never heard of “Maytag Virgin,” and while the title references literal elements of the plot, my advice is not to get distracted by them. Instead, let yourself get caught up in the performances of Laura Price as Lizzy and Matt McVay as Jack, or “Mr. Key,” as Lizzy calls him.
They are amazing. Chemistry crackles between them like static electricity. It’s so intimate and so intense and so excellent.
In its story of laundry and love, “Maytag Virgin” covers a lot of ground in two hours, including religion, sex and death.
“When I was young, I was afraid I wouldn’t amount to anything,” Jack says at one point. “When I was older, I was afraid I’d lose everything, and I did. Not much to be afraid of after that.”
Heartbreaking and reaffirming at the same time.
The humor is mostly subtle and all dialog-driven. The phrases “heated steam cycle,” “wrinkle guard” and “flashing Baby Jesus,” among others, made me laugh out loud.
Right out of the gate — or the back door in this case — Price’s and McVay’s handling of props immediately impressed me. Again, that may seem like an odd observation, but Lizzy holds onto a pie throughout most of the first scene, never missing a beat.
Later, Jack eats a real apple, pours real wine (or something that looks like it) and lights real candles. Lizzy uses real water in a plastic tub during a scene.
I’ve mentioned it before: Going all-in is an ECTC trademark that gives its shows an authenticity not seen everywhere.
As someone who can’t type when another person is looking over my shoulder, it also fascinates me how actors are able to do these tasks on stage in front of an audience.
I confess I worried a bit watching Jack climb a fairly tall ladder to hang Christmas lights on his porch. Maybe a little too much reality there. Lol.
ECTC is staging “Maytag Virgin” in a way as unique as the play. They’ve split the house, with half of the audience on one side of the set and half on the other side. Lizzy’s porch and back door are at one end; Jack’s porch and back door are at the other. They’re joined by a strip of grass.
“What I envision is a panorama sort of set on its side,” said Rebecca Lake, lighting and set designer.
I’m deliberately not sharing much of the plot because there are several important “reveals.” It’s a journey theatergoers need to take with Lizzy and Jack.
The show is recommended for ages 13 and up because of adult themes and a few outbursts of adult language.
“Maytag Virgin” opens Feb. 20 and continues two weekends through March 1 at ECTC’s performance space, 560 Grand Boulevard (upstairs) at Grand Boulevard in Miramar Beach.
Times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday with 2 p.m. matinees on Feb. 23 and March 1. Purchase tickets online at www.emeraldcoasttheatre.org or call 850-684-0323.