‘The M Spot’: Spa-ing partners seek to heal their marriage

From left,  Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker and Pheonix Vaughn co-star in "The M Spot," which is at New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch through Marcdh 29.

SUZANNE BARABAS

From left, Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker and Pheonix Vaughn co-star in “The M Spot,” which is at New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch through March 29.

Maddie and Jerry are a happily married but not totally satisfied couple. He wants to spice things up. She want to move things forward.

Obviously, those aren’t exactly the same thing. Still, they take a trip to an adult-oriented spa together and try to work it all out in the comedy, “The M Spot,” whose world premiere, directed by Evan Bergman, is being presented at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch this month.

Married couple Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry, who co-starred in TV’s “L.A. Law” in the ’80s and ’90s, play Jerry and Maddie in the play, which Tucker wrote. And not surprisingly, they are totally believable as 60-something spouses who adore each other but still want the other to change, and can’t figure out why their partner is being so darn stubborn.

The first act is a little slow: Jerry talks about himself as Maddie does yoga, then she rolls up her mat and talks about herself as he reads his newspaper. Then they bicker a bit. But the second act ups the dramatic tension with the appearance of a young masseuse named Star (who also both a sex therapist and a repository of new age wisdom). Played by Pheonix Vaughn, she’s a few decades younger than these two and from a totally different world, yet she immediately understands what’s really going on between them and shakes things up in ways you can’t see coming.

As a playwright, Tucker does a nice job at creating characters who are not just complex, but have contradictory impulses that they have trouble explaining, even to themselves. Tucker also writes dialogue that sounds natural, even when the characters are throwing around a lot of self-help jargon.

On the other hand, it wasn’t a good idea for him to have the massage therapist refuse payment. Yes, Star is good-hearted and almost supernaturally grounded, but that still rings so false it’s jarring.

The sets, by Jessica Parks, echo the trajectory of the play. The first act, in which the couple seem to be nearing a dead end in their relationship, takes place in their New York apartment, which is minimally decorated and a bit cramped. The second is in a warm, welcoming room at a California resort, where it feels natural for the couple to try to shed their defenses and generate some rays of hope.

You may be a little annoyed by these two at first: He’s charming but self-centered, she’s dedicated to self-improvement but a bit of a nag. But stick with them, and you’ll find yourself, eventually, rooting for them.

“The M Spot” is at New Jersey Repertory Theater through March 29. For information, visit njrep.org.

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