Not only has the fire gone out of Henry’s and Alice’s 26-year marriage. Now they have to contend with bears.
The middle-aged couple, whom Canadian playwright Michele Riml introduced to the world with her 2002 comedy “Sexy Laundry,” are back. And in a bid to reignite the flickers of romance that have long since turned to ashes, they’ve gone camping.
Baby, light my fire.
“Henry & Alice: Into the Wild” kicked off Park Square Theatre’s new season Friday. Alice (Carolyn Pool) clearly would be more at home at a dinner party than at a picnic table or sleeping in a tent. As her husband, Henry (John Middleton), tries to set up camp, she’s armed with a how-to guide, “Camping for Dummies.”
Three years ago, when Park Square staged “Sexy Laundry,” Alice brought “Sex for Dummies” to the couple’s staycation at a nice hotel. Clearly, things didn’t work out as they wished. But rekindling romance is a journey, not a destination.
This sequel has many of the same ingredients as Park Square’s 2014 staging, including the pitch-perfect Middleton and director Mary Finnerty, who has an organic sense of how to maximize a joke without making her characters into rubes. Middleton, a smart, crackerjack actor, gives Henry a kind of far-off look, but he’s not one of those distracted people who are always thinking several steps ahead — just a decent guy who’s oblivious and somewhat vacant.
Middleton’s real-life wife, Charity Jones, played Alice in “Sexy Laundry,” but she’s now over at the Guthrie Theater as Lady Capulet in Joseph Haj’s free-spirited “Romeo and Juliet.” Pool is a good match for Alice, giving the restless, unsatisfied woman a modulated orneriness. And her slightly cold chemistry with Middleton helps bolster the narrative.
Another difference: The show is being staged in the near-round of Park Square’s thrust stage rather than the proscenium auditorium where “Sexy Laundry” was presented. That gives the production, whose rustic setting was designed by Kit Mayer, more immediacy and an immersive feel.
It’s a stretch to imagine that a camping trip would be the magic bullet to get Alice and Henry out of their relationship doldrums. But you don’t have to be Dr. Phil to applaud the effort.
And the spouses have an example in Alice’s sister, Diana, played by the winsomely easygoing Melanie Wehrmacher. Fearless and spontaneous, Diana is a motorcycle-riding adventurer who is neither beholden to the past nor much concerned with the future. It is her fully present approach to life that offers Henry and Alice a refresher about the things that attracted them to each other back in their salad days.