Fusion/Confusion: Washer/Dryer

 

4 Jayml Dobson and Nandita Shenoy -- Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum

 

 

 

 

by Samuel L. Leiter

 

Are you a sitcom fan? Do you enjoy watching comic stereotypes (especially Asian and gay) run through smartly formulated, if admittedly familiar, tropes played out in living room/kitchen settings, with enough comic complications about family and marital relations to keep you chuckling until everything’s wrapped in a tidy, heartwarming conclusion? If so, I recommend Washer/Dryer, a tasty piece of farcical cooking about an Asian fusion marriage by Indian-American playwright/actress Nandita Shenoy, expertly directed by Benjamin Kamine for the Ma-Yi Theater Company, a troupe devoted to plays by Asian-Americans. (It premiered last year with Los Angeles’s East West Players.)

6 Jade Wu -- Photo by Isaiah Tanenbaum

Shenoy herself plays Sonya, a struggling Indian-American actress living in a tiny Upper East Side single occupancy co-op studio, whose pièce de résistance is a washer/dryer combination. Such a feature, it appears, is the Holy Grail of the New York apartment market, making Sonya reluctant to move to a larger space. What even prompts the thought of such a move is her recent Las Vegas elopement (thanks to a Groupon coupon) with Michael (Johnny Wu), a Chinese-American stringer for the Times. Among the many rules insisted on by the co-op’s rigid board, presided over by the ditzy Wendee (Annie McNamara), is that single occupancy owners can’t cohabit in them with a spouse if they marry, although guests can remain as long as they wish. Sonya, figuring she’d eventually find a solution to the problem, never told this to Michael, who wonders why the doorman, Felipe (whose voice is often heard over the intercom), doesn’t seem to know he’s Sonya’s husband. It’s not long before the marriage is soiled (much of it by Sonya and Michael’s lies and withheld information) and in need of laundering, so that everything ultimately comes out in the wash.

 

Serving as helpmates and hindrances in the marital scrubadub are Sam (Jamyl Dobson), a black, flamboyantly gay neighbor, replete with drolly, barbed wisdom; Dr. Lee (Jade Wu), Michael’s Tiger mom, a psychiatrist who has no qualms about expressing her disdain for her precious son’s new, non-Chinese wife, even calling her loose and alcoholic right after meeting her; and the uptight Wendee (Annie McNamara), preoccupied by the co-op’s rules and troubled by her teenage son’s sexual identity issues. Comic riffs on gayness and homophobia (Dr. Lee refers to any homosexual as “a gay”), in fact, are central, especially after Michael, hoping to avoid eviction, seeks to convince Wendee that he’s staying with Sonya as her gay best friend (pop quiz: what show with John Ritter, Suzanne Sommers, and Joyce DeWitt had an achingly similar premise?).

 

Washer Dryer - Key Art

The characters, especially Sam, Dr. Lee, and Wendee, are comically exaggerated yet never so much as to lose touch with reality; the dialogue is sharp and often witty; there are laugh-producing physical set pieces (even the washer/dryer plays its part); and the emphasis on the dangers of lying grounds the play in a meaningful thematic context. Wisecracks about Asian cultural differences, however, are used more for quick laughs than any deeper purpose. Anshuman Bhatia’s cluttered apartment setting is spot on, Dede Ayite’s costumes look right, and Jonathan Cottle’s lighting keeps everything bright and cheerful.

 

As Michael, Johnny Wu is a skillful, light comedian; Annie McNamara’s Wendee is comically frazzled in a Joan Cusack kind of way; Jade Wu’s intrusive Dr. Lee may be ruder than any real shrink but nonetheless makes you believe her; and Jamyl Dobson’s RuPaul-ish Sam steals the show with his sly humor and human warmth. Unfortunately, Nandita Shenoy, although perky and pleasant, has a squeaky voice, mugs, and lacks presence. What she doesn’t lack, though, is a gift for comic writing: TV—are you listening?

 

Washer/Dryer. Through February 20, presented by the Ma-Yi Theater Company at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (410 West Forty-Second Street, between Ninth Avenue and Dyer). www.ma-yitheatre.org

 

* Photos by Isaiah Tanenbaum

 

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