It’s pretty futile to try to make a romantic comedy-drama truly original, after decades of meet-cute movies. Audrey Cefaly’s Maytag Virgin, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre’s Keating Theatre, isn’t about to break the mold, either. But it’s a charming, low-key, well-acted two-hander about a pair of (perhaps?) 40-somethings who’ve known loss but are not out of hope for finding love.
Here, the meet-cute takes place on Pedro L. Guevara’s welcoming set of two back porches, in an Alabama town where Lizzy Nash (Rachel Moulton) is greeting her new neighbor, Jack Key (Blake Price), with a freshly baked pie, as he hands her a Coke. That’s the Southern way of doing things, even if Lizzy then goes on to talk Jack’s head off as he attempts to put away his moving boxes. Lizzy can be heedless, interrupting Jack’s peace of mind by reminding him that his home’s former owners both died there, asking if he’s seen any ghosts yet.
But the ghosts that truly haunt these characters are not primarily those of that long-married couple. For Jack, a high school physics teacher, his move from Biloxi came about as part of seeking a new life after his beloved wife died of cancer. Lizzy, who’s also a teacher, is on leave because her own spouse died suddenly in a work accident. So both have some grieving and healing work to do.
As time passes (we see fall, Christmas, spring and summer come and go), the two forge a friendship (despite Lizzy’s antipathy to Jack’s Maytag dryer on his porch; she prefers to hang her laundry outside) that we can only expect will become something more. Secrets spill out during a drinks-fueled conversation over one evening’s dinner, and while Cefaly sprinkles plenty of humor around during Maytag Virgin, we also see the genuine hurt Jack and Lizzy have endured, and we root for them to find happiness.
Moulton is engaging even as Lizzy can be irritating, and she and Price have a convincing rapport. His Jack is less verbal and emotional than Lizzy, but Price gives him a likeable presence and reveals his own need in subtler ways. Kate Alexander’s direction of the two actors is sympathetic and understanding, and Andrew Gray’s lighting design adds nuance to scenes of their gradual coming together.
There’s nothing new or especially striking about Maytag Virgin, but if you’re in the mood for a sweet romance with a Southern flavor, it’s worth paying a visit to Cefaly’s world. Maytag Virgin continues through July 31; for tickets, call (941) 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.