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Brooklyn Laundry

Theatre Review by Marc Miller - February 28, 2024

David Zayas and Cecily Strong
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
The New York Times beat me to it yesterday in saying so, but gosh, this is some season John Patrick Shanley is having. First a well-received revival of his early play, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, at the Lucille Lortel. Then a high-profile staging of his Pulitzer-winning Doubt, just about to open at the Todd Haimes. And now, Brooklyn Laundry, Shanley's new play at Manhattan Theatre Club, a short (75 minutes), sweet comedy-drama that's positively remarkable in its blending of both.

If it resembles any earlier Shanley work, the closest thing might be his Oscar-winning screenplay for Moonstruck, now widely regarded as one of the great screen romcoms. Darker, though–yet still quirky and buoyant. Once again, we're mostly in Brooklyn (neighborhood unspecified, but it could be Moonstruck's Carroll Gardens) and traveling among slightly burned-out blue-collar folk. Chief among these is Owen (David Zayas), owner of the titular laundry. Santo Loquasto's set for this is impressive enough, laundry bags piled on top of dryers, plastic-wrapped shirts hanging along a long rack. But wait until it revolves to reveal a) the heavily raked bedroom of a trailer in a Pennsylvania trailer park, b) the kitschy outdoor seating area of a Brooklyn restaurant, and c) a bedraggled studio apartment. It's some of Loquasto's best work ever, and that's saying a lot.

This is one of those plays where revealing anything might be something of a spoiler, so let's boil it down. Enter Fran (Cecily Strong), described in Shanley's script as "37 and cranky." Some back-and-forth with Owen and Fran sparring over laundry, lollipops, and the existence of God; both are single, both are hurting, and we smell a romcom coming. Which is what we get, but not a garden-variety romcom–rather, one shot through with unexpected plot turns and even great misfortune. That we're kept laughing while experiencing the painful transitions these characters are enduring is a testament to Shanley's sharp observational powers.

Which amplify with the appearance of Trish (Florencia Lozano), Fran's sister. Loquasto's set has turned into her bedroom, where Fran is visiting her in this very downmarket trailer park community. Trish, who married an absolute loser and had two kids, is going through something devastating that won't be revealed here. The siblings engage in small talk, amid large circumstances, about family matters and the closeness that both wanted but neither ever set in motion. Lozano, playing someone with limited powers of expression at this moment, expresses plenty, one of several tributes to not only Shanley's writing but also his keen direction.

Third scene: that restaurant. Fran took Trish's advice and got a little stoned, leading to some mild mushroom jokes as she and Owen negotiate a fraught first date. The talk is vintage Shanley:

Fran, high: Don't put words in my mouth. Oh wow.

Owen: What?

Fran: I'm picturing that. Like you have a cup of words, and you're picking them up with a tweezers and putting them in my mouth. Like when they feed a baby platypus or something.

Andrea Syglowski and Cecily Strong
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Strong, coming off "Saturday Night Live" and "Schmigadoon!," has a tendency toward easy laughs, and maybe she's not a seasoned stage actor yet. But you buy the rage she often expresses about her position in life, and she does manage one lovely moment, when Fran opts to go into full flirtation mode and visibly changes her body language. Zayas's Owen, with an accent I can't quite place, is stalwart throughout, a nice decent guy whose un-heartthrob looks generally prevent him from being noticed by the ladies. This is the charm scene, and the dialogue charms. Owen: "We're two different people." Fran: "I think we're like six different people." As Shanley says in his program note, "I'm inviting the audience to enjoy the generosity and heroism of people who take on big responsibilities without big acclaim," and that's what happens here.

As it does in the next scene, between Fran and her other sister, Susie (Andrea Syglowski), who's also going through a terrible time. There's a lot of talk about a lot of very sad stuff, it gets Susie angry, and can Syglowski ever do angry. More pain and sibling rivalry, yet shot through with some very funny exchanges, and more of the same in the subsequent denouement between Fran and Owen. Two regular working-class people with huge concerns and nearly insurmountable odds, and we don't know how they're going to bridge them, but we root for them and believe they will, such is Shanley's skill.

I didn't really notice Suzy Benziger's costumes, which may speak to how right they are for these characters, and Brian MacDevitt's lighting is mostly restrained, except for a couple of effects in the restaurant scene–it's a grill joint, and the flames are leaping. It's the typical efficient MTC production, but what goes way beyond the efficient is Shanley's writing, which embraces both the tragic and the everyday-whimsical, and blends them with the finesse and assurance of a master mixologist. Call it alchemy.

Brooklyn Laundry
Through March 31, 2024
Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center Stage 1, 131 W. 55th St., New York NY
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