Brooklyn Laundry – Romance vs Realism

John Patrick Shanley writes contemporary kitchen sink realism. In keeping with the term’s definition his characters are often disillusioned with society, subject to social and political issues. Shanley, however, has adroit talent with integrating humor into his plays. Comedies tend to have a vein of the dark, dramas of the droll or absurd. An enviable perspective and one that keeps his work both interesting and true to life.

David Zayas (Owen), Cecily Strong (Fran)

The Soap Stop is a full service laundry/Dry Cleaners. A superbly detailed set (Santo Loquasto) emerges walk-in complete. Familiarity encourages audience to relax, settle in, and leave the day outside. Owen (David Zayas), the establishment’s owner, is a blue collar guy with friendly, upbeat manner. Remuneration from several law suits enabled him at midlife to buy this and two others like it. Despite the accident that precipitated windfalls, he feels lucky. We come upon him hefting laundry bags, dancing to salsa.

Fran (Cecily Strong) couldn’t be more different. When the weight of her laundry comes up light for the minimum, with a chip on her shoulder, she admits the loss of a boyfriend. Response to Owen’s banter is terse and off putting in a way that would’ve discouraged another man. He compares her to his ex-fiancé, “Smart, one inch from terrific, but gloomy.” Fran protests she’s just realistic. She gets up to leave several times, but doesn’t. When Owen surprisingly invites her to dinner, she accepts.

Cecily Strong (Fran), Florencia Lozano (Trish)

Next, we’re at Fran’s sister’s mobile home in Pennsylvania. (Loquasto deftly indicates this with shape, proportion, and personalization.) Trish (Florencia Lozano) is under hospice care with brain cancer. Twice divorced from the same drug addict (that she got out is a point of pride), dealing with three kids, she’s none the less accepting of and even sardonically humorous about her situation. The scene is original. Lozano strikes just the right tone of exhaustion, practicality, and relief in resignation.

David Zayas (Owen), Cecily Strong (Fran)

Upon return, Fran keeps her date at an outdoor barbecue restaurant where every now and then a fire just beyond our vision flares. (Lighting Design Brian McDevitt.) She’s taken hallucinogenic mushrooms gifted by Trish who wants her sister to be more open. In fact, Fran’s brought some for Owen who what-the-hell acquiesces. This elicits sweet, vulnerable, spacey connection. His sexual issue and her congenital indecision come to fore. They pledge never to ghost one another. And start to date. For the first time, Strong seems fully present in the role, ironically while her character is high. From here on, she’s sympathetic. Zayas inhabits Owen from the start, sustaining credibility throughout. I’ve seen the actor several times these last years. He’s always excellent.

Andrea Syglowski (Susie), Cecily Strong (Fran)

Just when things seem possible, Fran’s other sister Susie (Andrea Syglowski – a solid turn) delivers more bad news. Unable to cope, Fran drops off the map. The few times Owen or she attempt to reach out, they miss one another. Both assume lack of commitment. When Fran finally shows up at the laundry, fireworks ensue. Her life has irrevocably changed, but before Owen can address whether he wants to be a part of it, the two must resolve why they behaved as they did. Writing is angry, painful, authentic, and beautifully played. Fran and Owen are not simple characters. What might be maudlin in other hands, is here not just believable but captivatingly specific.

Directed by the playwright himself, the play’s timing is like fine Swiss clockwork. Not a gesture arrives without emotional provocation. Hallucinogenic communication is treated with a light hand; confrontation choreographed in believably hard-edged fits and starts.

A fine play admirably served by its production.

Photos by Jeremy Daniels
Opening: Susie (Andrea Syglowski), David Zayas (Owen), Cecily Strong (Fran), Florencia Lozano (Trish)

Brooklyn Laundry by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Manhattan Theatre Club City Center Stage I
131 West 55th Street
Extended through April 14, 2024

About Alix Cohen (1724 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.