One weekend, two couples -- Carol and Matt, Jill and Dan -- four longtime friends, head out of the city to a mountain retreat to celebrate Carol's 60th birthday.
But, as they settle into the woodsy surroundings, they find the most basic assumptions about their relationships turned upside down.
That's the premise of Out of the City, Leslie Ayvazian's romantic comedy in its regional premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, March 19-April 12.
The quirky 90-minute play will resonate with audiences, says director Christian Parker, who directed Proof at MRT in the 2012-13 season and teaches with Ayvazian at Columbia University.
"Leslie is a smart, funny, strong writer and has a real sense of what is uniquely theatrical," says Parker, who grew up in Andover. "The play appears very realistic at first glance. But quickly, through language and setting, the audience realizes they are in a place based in reality, but a little heightened, too, and a little off-kilter."
Ayvazian, the award-winning playwright of Nine Armenians and winner of numerous commissions, originally wrote Out of the City as a short one-act to perform with her friend Janet Zarish, an actress who heads the acting department at Tisch School of Drama at New York University.
"I wanted to do something for Janet, who is blonde and beautiful and looks great on stage. So I came up with this idea about two good friends who suddenly share something. It's sweet, but not sexual, yet it definitely changes things and there's been a spark," she said.
The play, expanded to include the male characters, was officially "launched" last summer at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Vermont.
"It was our chance to do it again, out of town, then say good-bye to it," she said.
Parker brought the play to MRT's artistic director Charles Towers, who included it in the season.
(Coincidentally, Towers and Ayvazian both attended University of Vermont, where she was a senior when he was a freshman.)
"I think MRT audiences will easily relate to this people and be entertained and maybe a little stirred up by the play. I hope there will be interesting, charged conversation afterwards," he said.
"But mostly," he added, "I hope it's a refreshing, entertaining story to lift people out of a long, cooped-up winter."
Tickets are $20-$60 at www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.
On the marquee
- MONSTER OF A MUSICAL: Open Door Theater of Acton presents Shrek: The Musical, March 20-29 in the Dragonfly Theatre at the R.J. Grey Junior High School, Charter Road, Acton. Based on the popular DreamWorks animated film, it's a tale of an unlikely hero on a life-changing journey alongside a wisecracking Donkey and a feisty princess. Kevin Mahaney of Billerica stars as Shrek opposite Lowell resident Katie Lafaw as Princess Fiona. Since its founding in 1980, Open Door has been committed to providing theatrical experiences to families and people with special needs, including special performances in ASL, sensory-friendly and audio-described. Visit www.opendoortheater.org for details and tickets.
- LOCAL STAGES: All The World's A Stage Players presents Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale at Chelmsford Center for the Arts, 1 North Road on Fridays-Saturdays, March 20, 21, 27 and 28, at 7 p.m. $5; free for kids, 18 and under at firstname.lastname@example.org... Theatre with a Twist presents the children's classic Charlotte's Web on Friday, March 2, at 7 p.m., Saturday, March 21, at 4 p.m., and Saturday, March 28, at 1 and 7 p.m., at St. Matthews Church, 435 Central St., Acton. Visit www.theatrewithatwist.com.
- CITY STUFF: Actors' Shakespeare Project brings the language of love and loss to center stage in Jenny Schwartz's play God's Ear, March 25-April 12, at The Davis Square Theatre, 255 Elm St., Somerville. Directed by Thomas Derrah, the play is about married protagonists Mel (Tamara Hickey) and Ted (Gabriel Kuttner), who try to hold together their unraveling marriage after their son's accidental death. $28-$50; $15, student rush at www.actorsshakespeareproject.org or call 617-776-2200, ext. 225.
Nancye Tuttle's email address is email@example.com.