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Wells actors reveal their sexy laundry in Prince George

Mackey and Van Straalen celebrate anniversary with rare play together

When you’ve been married for 25 years, it’s not uncommon for couples to drift into romantic routine and look for some fresh sparks. Sexy Laundry can be just the ticket.

The tickets are flying off the shelves to see Sexy Laundry - the play, that is - to see how fictional characters Alice and Henry are getting through the marital ennui. Alice and Henry, in turn, are getting all their information from the gaudy yellow book Sex For Dummies and their classy mentorship couple Julia and Dirk, the actors playing them on stage at Theatre North West (TNW) in Prince George.

Julia Mackey and Dirk Van Straalen are, as Quesnel theatre fans well know, treasures of the Cariboo live arts scene. They are a real-life couple of exactly 25 years, just as Alice and Henry are, and they spend most of their days operating the Sunset Theatre in Wells.

They are also the creative team behind international hit play Jake’s Gift - he as director, she as actor and principal playwright - but this is something entirely new for them (almost)…standing on stage together.

“We met doing The Mousetrap about 25 years ago in Chemainus so it’s wonderful to be in this story as a couple at this time in our relationship, and our 25th is in May,” said Mackey.

“To be honest, I think we were both very apprehensive about taking this on,” said Van Straalen. “The play does feel very vulnerable. Coming out of the pandemic, the opportunity was there, so we said let’s embrace something we’re really afraid of, and see if we survive it. So far, so great.”

One of the last plays Mackey and Van Straalen watched just for fun as a couple was the Theatre North West production of The Mousetrap - the play that brought them together in the first place - in fall of 2023. About then, frequent TNW director Anna Russell eyed them for the as-yet undisclosed production of Sexy Laundry that she was planning for the ‘24 season.

“We were looking for not necessarily a couple, but actors who were the right age and the right type that we knew had the skills, and their names came up,” Russell told The Observer. “It was a ‘let’s see if we can talk them into it’ kind of thing. They are usually quite busy touring with Jake’s Gift but we had an indication that February was good for them in terms of timeline. November (the play is a Remembrance Day favourite across Canada) is obviously not. And it worked out.”

“We have a regular cabaret at the Sunset Theatre where we collaborate on sketches, but we haven’t been in a production together since at least 2003, so it’s been more than 20 years,” said Mackey.

“I haven’t been on stage, formally, since 2010, and that was Sunshine Boys in Chemainus,” said Van Straalen, who is an acclaimed actor but is most often behind the scenes.

“It’s nice to be part of this team of local artists at TNW. It’s so welcoming and a great place to work,” said Mackey, who gets to now take on a role far different than her signature multi-character performances in Jake’s Gift.

“I also feel it’s a privilege just to participate in live theatre at all. It feels synchronous, scary and joyous all at the same time,” Van Straalen added.

Romance is a key element in Alice’s life, but Henry is such a practical thinker that he has neglected his poetic side. His pragmatism has even taken on a cynical tone, at his stage in life, while Alice’s colourful side might have started as adventurous but has become overwrought.

They are both needy, but for different things, and stuck together by domestic circumstance. Is there a path out of their individual doldrums and back onto a shared emotional path? Familiarity can breed boredom, but also provide a shorthand to deepest passion. Which might they find?

As a play, it has become a favourite across the world since its debut in 2002. It flaunts a lot of physical comedy, colourful innuendo, exaggerations, and sometimes even a truly sexy moment in amongst all the gaffs and guffaws.

“At first, I didn’t like Alice, particularly, but she has grown on me and I love her, now,” Mackey explained, finding connections in their shared position in society if not the specific personality traits.

“Neither of us is like that,” said Van Straalen, describing their personal proximity to the characters they are portraying.

They both applaud the writing, done by Michele Riml, for effectively capturing the spirit of midlife marriage, even in its comedic form.

They also praise Russell for finding the nuances that make this production so different from the other versions out there - as unique as the two actors who get to sink into Alice and Henry for this theatrical relationship on top of the actual one.

Sexy Laundry is on at TNW (go to for tickets and other details) until March 6.

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Frank Peebles

About the Author: Frank Peebles

I started my career with Black Press Media fresh out of BCIT in 1994, as part of the startup of the Prince George Free Press, then editor of the Lakes District News.
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