In the American premiere of Michele Rimi's look at making love in middle age, Alice Lane (Frances Fisher) brings her reluctant husband, Henry (Paul Ben-Victor), along with a copy of Sex for Dummies
, to a fabulously expensive hotel in hopes of rekindling their romance. From the start, Joel Daavid's production design is striking, creating the hotel's lush atmosphere with a beautiful blend of naturalistic detail and minimalism. Despite such sexy surroundings, Alice and Henry's conversation quickly degenerates into a series of arguments about everything from the thin towels to fantasies of seduction by Italian baristas. While their sparring provides much hilarity, between the barbs are painful and touching moments of a couple scraping the dark corners of their marriage. Their digs at each other bring to mind George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
, but their tenderness, as well as the play's economy, sets them apart from the famously tormented pair in Albee's marital slugfest. Both Fisher and Ben-Victor are masterful in their roles, embodying characters who have us in stitches one minute and teary-eyed the next. Gary Blumsack's direction is equally nuanced and dynamic, using the entire stage and allowing the characters to live and breathe in between lines. The only minor drawback is Christopher Game's cinematic musical underscoring, which distracts from the verbal fireworks. Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd., Westlake; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru March 16. (213) 389-9680.