They were America’s Sexiest Couple on a popular television show, Residents, nearly 30 years ago. Brought together for the first time in decades to memorialize the show’s producer, an old friend, what do they mean to each other now? America’s Sexiest Couple is one of the funniest shows that made me laugh out loud, reflect on earlier years, ponder how societal expectations have shifted from then to now, and come to grips with unresolved gender equity matters that remain to this day.
First of all, you can trust writer Ken Levine (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frazier, The Simpsons, to name a few) for quality material, and he delivers with America’s Sexiest Couple. Secondly, the couple Susan and Craig played by the talented Kari Luther and John Morogiello have enough chemistry and heat to light up a room. That combined with brisk direction by Kathleen Barth makes this a winner.
Susan has arrived at her hotel room and after an entertaining exchange with the Bellboy prepares for a visit from her years-ago co-star to reminisce about old times in preparation for the memorial. Once Craig enters the room, the sparks start immediately — they see reflections of themselves as the adorable couple all those years ago (think Luke and Laura from General Hospital, on steroids), adored by fans, on top of the world, which beckoned with promise and possibilities. They flirt, they resist, they explain and clarify, they try to resist some more, but resistance is futile as they skim across memories of what almost was. Everyone assumed they were a couple for their nearly five years on set. Twenty-five years is a long time to yearn for one’s true unrequited love.
As Bellboy, Fletcher Lowe is energetically funny with terrific comedic timing, a keen foil for the veteran duo. His facial expression and fresh millennial take on the situation add a lighthearted touch bringing everything into the here and now. Craig and Susan might be jostling back and forth in time, will or won’t they match up for a reboot of the show? But the Bellboy keeps us in the present with selfies and referencing them as his grandparents’ age! Director Kathleen Barth keeps the fun in high gear with top-notch performances by all. Hilarity ensues.
Morogiello has total command of his character from the very beginning — Craig is suave, has capitalized on his looks and charm, and still has a media following. Luther’s Susan is more unsettled, nuanced, and guarded with just enough edge, a wonderfully calibrated performance. Luther keeps the dramatic tension flowing through the twists and turns of the skillful script. As the two recollect their love scenes, their looks linger, and they remember each other’s fragrances and scents — we’re in primal territory now, and the intimacy coach has some serious work on her plate.
Before long, however, the tables turn with the onset of reality — they are not the same two dreamy doe-eyed youngsters from all those years ago. They’re adults and have been through some stuff, and it’s not all dreamy. Once they get real with each other and start digging through layers of their lives, choices, annoying habits, hurt, and resentments, more sparks fly, but this time, they’re the combustible scorched-earth kind.
Back in the day, Susan walked away from the show at its peak, didn’t attend any of the reunions, and never kept up with the cast or company. She turned from being the bubbly co-star and everybody’s girlfriend next door to a non-grata recluse barely eking out a living as a has-been. Something happened, and we all gasped when slapped with unfortunate recognition when we finally find out what it was.
The stellar writing is a refreshing break from the usual blah sit-com routine. While the quips are laugh-out-loud funny, there’s an underlayer of tucked-away memories, feelings, and intentions that slowly percolate through. It’s a sophisticated script that can transition from raucous laughter to pensive moods of wonder as the characters open up and share their innermost thoughts, feelings, dreams, and vulnerabilities. The show is a marvel of unexpected twists that zig just when you expect it to zag and keeps you wondering what will happen next.
The hotel room set is as realistic as anything I’ve seen with this company, full-size pillow-packed bed centerstage with comfortable dining area stage right and fully functioning door for entrances on the left. Along with the great sound design, the lighting is just as effective, soothing hues of blue in the dining area and subtle dimming as the passions heat up.
Speaking of sound, John Morogiello‘s gift for soundtracks is on full display again. This time the songs zoom you back like a time machine to the 1970s–’80s in preparation for their ’90s show. Those of us of a certain age won’t be able to resist humming along to the intros for Mary Tyler Moore, The Jetsons, Gilligan’s Island, Friends, Cheers, and of course M*A*S*H.
The Best Medicine Rep mission statement is “We are here to entertain, bring joy, foster community and learning through shared laughter, and lighten our shared burden of existence for a short while.” We’re fortunate to have this company tackle this caliber of writing with verve and sophistication. Catch it while you can.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
America’s Sexiest Couple plays through January 29, 2023, Friday and Saturday at 7:00 PM, and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 PM, presented by Best Medicine Rep Theatre Company performing on the lower level of Lakeforest Mall, 701 Russell Avenue, Gaithersburg, MD. Purchase tickets ($30 general admission, $25 senior/student) at the door or go online.
COVID Safety: All patrons must wear masks. (See Your Visit.)
America’s Sexiest Couple
Written by Ken Levine
Directed by Kathleen Barth
Intimacy Director: Emily Sucher
Lights, Sound, and Set Scenic Design by John Morogiello
Costume Design by Elizabeth Kemmerer
Stage Management – Mia Amado
Susan: Kari Luther
Craig: John Morogiello
Bellboy: Fletcher Lowe