With The Joy Wheel, playwright Ian McRae has crafted a terrific, raucous comedy filled with vividly written characters that conjure up memories of the best of Neil Simon, seasoned with whiffs of the head-butting “Honeymooners,” and served up with delicious, outrageous sexual frankness by Jason Alexander’s superb direction.
Frank (Dann Florek) and Stella (Gina Hecht) have been married for forty years. The fire has gone out of their sexual life, to the point of sleeping separately. His penis is dormant and her vagina sadly fallow. She misses erotic intimacy and he has accepted a life more like brother and sister than husband and wife.
The action erupts in medias res with Frank upset over Stella’s unfortunately, hilariously, sunburned skin, which will make it uncomfortable, if not impossible, for her to attend an event in honor of Frank’s retirement. He is suited up in a rented tuxedo and she is lobster red and declines to attend the festivities. He is afraid of messing up his speech if she isn’t there. In his moment of truth, Frank has stage fright of the Ralph Kramden humina-humina-humina variety.
In their separate lives, Frank has fallen in with the militarily mad survivalist, Stew (the enthusiastically over-the-top Maury Sterling), who has convinced Frank to convert his swimming pool into a bunker, to the great dismay of Stella, for whom the pool was more than just a place to swim. In her own separate life, Stella has been cajoled into taking part in a play called “Tales of My Vagina,” by her enthusiastic, outré friend Margie (wickedly delightful Lee Garlington). If this conjures images of another extraordinarily popular feminist play performed by amateur women around the country, you would not be wrong.
In the capable hands of director Jason Alexander, The Joy Wheel is breathtakingly performed at non-stop speed engendering copious laughter, giggles, guffaws, and chortling in a delighted audience while building to splendid climax and a satisfying dénoument. The production is well served by scenic designer John Iacovelli, lighting and sound designer Edward Salas, and costume designer Sarah Figoten Wilson. Paul Ruddy did the casting, and Nicole Millar manages the stage.
If you want to have a great night (or afternoon) at the theatre, see this play!
Ruskin Group Theatre’s World Premiere of Ian McRae’s The Joy Wheel, produced by John Ruskin and Michael R. Myers, is extending through March 31st at the Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Avenue in Santa Monica.