- Henry and Alice: Into the Wild, the sequel to Sexy Laundry, by Michele Riml at The Arts Club Theatre Company's Granville Island Stage, on until May 26. Tickets: $29-$49, visit artsclub.com.
FOR playwright Michele Riml, the first show with an audience is nerve-wracking to say the least.
The North Vancouver resident describes the excitement experienced as akin to that split-second moment when you reach a rollercoaster's apex and are struck by the realization that, like it or not, there's no turning back.
Lucky for Riml, her talent for bringing relatable characters to life continues to not only please audiences but leave them wanting more - so much so, that she's willingly jumped on the ride once again to bring back two of her most beloved personalities.
Riml's Sexy Laundry first graced the Arts Club Theatre Company stage in 2004, introducing theatre-goers to middleaged couple Henry and Alice. Interested in spicing up their marriage, they check into a spa hotel armed with a copy of Sex for Dummies. A romantic comedy, the work explores why people stay together or drift apart.
Its sequel, Henry and Alice: Into the Wild, is on now at the Arts Club's Granville Island Stage and this time around, the duo is giving camping a whirl. Grappling with Henry's recent job loss - and an uninvited guest - they discover how to survive a mid-life crisis, and confront truths about their lives and lifestyles.
Like its predecessor, Into the Wild is very much a comedic romp, though at its heart is an important message.
"Right now a lot of people are struggling," says Riml, 45. "With the economy, there are a lot of people who've been laid off or maybe their pension is less than what they thought it was going to be. While the play's a comedy, I think there's a real dramatic undertone and it's about questioning what matters in life and what do you do when everything goes sideways."
Before making its Arts Club debut, Sexy Laundry premiered at the Vancouver International Fringe Festival in 2002. It's since been performed across the country, as well as translated into a number of languages and performed internationally.
Riml never planned on penning a sequel; however a personal camping trip gone wrong to Osoyoos' Haynes Point Provincial Park planted the seed.
"It's a beautiful place, but we had a real windstorm," she says of the resulting disastrous vacation.
Five Canadian companies have already expressed interest in presenting Into the Wild.
Riml, who has been writing since she was 16, was active in theatre at her alma mater, Handsworth secondary, and was a big fan of the Arts Club productions (Grease and Pippin included) her mother took her to. She went on to study at Simon Fraser University and received a degree in fine and performing arts. While she was at one point drawn to acting, her true passion quickly became clear. Examples of her plays include Miss Teen, Under the Influence, RAGE and Poster Boys.
The Arts Club has so far produced four of her works.
"The Arts Club has been a very nurturing relationship," she says.
Riml's one-woman play, On the Edge, was mounted at Victoria's Belfry Theatre earlier this year, performed by Susinn McFarlen, who's resuming her role of Alice in Into the Wild.
"All my plays usually feature women who are sort of middle-aged, either on the verge of breaking down or breaking through," says Riml.
Riml, who, in 2008, was nominated for the Siminovitch Prize, also writes for young audiences through Green Thumb Theatre for Young People, and mentors youth through the IGNITE! Mentorship Program at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.
She's currently working on Emerson in the Garden, which will depict an older woman in conversation with the famed poet, Ralph Waldo.
"I feel incredibly grateful that I get to make my living as a playwright," she says. "It lets me work at home, it lets me have more time with my son, who's 11," she says. "So I feel grateful for that in terms of making a living.
But also, it's neat to know that you've written something that moves you and moves other people. And what's really gratifying about Sexy Laundry, and hopefully about Into the Wild, is it's a play for average people. It's not high art, it's not for just theatre aficionados, it's for normal people. And, they seem to relate to it and I like that. When we saw Sexy Laundry, the audience would kind of nudge each other and talk to each other. It was clear that the issues were relevant to them."
With that in mind, Riml encourages local audiences to take in a performance.
"If you're going to come and pay your hard-earned money to go see a play these days, you should have fun," she says. "I would hope that there's something in the play to think about but I promise that (you'll) have a good time."
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