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Brooklyn Laundry

In John Patrick Shanley's latest bittersweet play, he creates another lovely story of an unlikely couple Fran and Owen who find each other just when they need someone most.

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David Zayas and Cecily Strong in a scene from John Patrick Shanley’s “Brooklyn Laundry” at Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center Stage I (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left”] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]

John Patrick Shanley has become our poet of lonely, desperate working class people trying to make a connection despite their inadequacies and hang-ups in such plays as Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Savage in Limbo, the dreamer examines his pillow, The Big Funk and Outside Mullinger and, of course, in his Academy Award-winning script for Moonstruck. In all of these works, the pair makes an unlikely couple who fight against their very attachment as outside of the realm of possibility. In his latest play, the bittersweet Brooklyn Laundry, he creates another lovely story of an unlikely couple Fran and Owen who find each other just when they need someone most.

A nearly middle-aged, unattached couple Fran, aged 37, and Owen, aged 50, meet at his laundromat when she arrives to drop off her latest laundry. He is still grieving over a broken engagement two years before when he was in a car accident. She has not had a date since her last boyfriend left when she would not “go to the next level.” Very outspoken people at least with each other, they seem to be opposites, he is an optimist and she a pessimist who rub each other the wrong way. However, they are both open to change and to meeting someone new. After their first date at an outdoor Brooklyn restaurant, Fran finds out her divorced sister Trish in Pennsylvania is terminal and keeps it from Owen in order to have things remain light between them which her other sister Suzie considers a mistake. How much of a mistake this turns out to be is the story of the play.

Cecily Strong and Florencia Lozano in a scene from John Patrick Shanley’s “Brooklyn Laundry” at Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center Stage I (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

The title is a bit of misnomer as it refers only to where the main characters meet. It really should be called Fran and Owen. Although Shanley grew up in the Bronx (see his film Five Corners), the Brooklyn milieu is very strong in this play as it was in Moonstruck. Shanley’s characters are very definite, very well defined. Each line of his sharp and knowing dialogue tells us more about his people. Although endearing, this world premiere is not entirely successful as of now as the ending is too abrupt, as though a transition or two is missing. It is as though Shanley wants to wrap up his story based on a schematic of his own but we want a little more before his satisfying ending. However, we are rooting for Fran and Owen to end up together as we feel they deserve something good to happen in their lives.

Directed skillfully and shrewdly by Shanley, Cecily Strong, late of Saturday Night Live and the 2021 revival of The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, is excellent as Fran running the gamut of emotions in this tour de force role in which she is on stage throughout the play. She works well with Owen, played by David Zayas, most recently seen as “Eddie” in the Broadway production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cost of Living by Martyna Majok. Zayas makes Owen a surprising character continuingly taking us by surprise both by the delivery of his unexpected remarks and his swift decisions. They are like oil and water but we feel them growing closer together for the long run.

David Zayas and Cecily Strong in a scene from John Patrick Shanley’s “Brooklyn Laundry” at Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center Stage I (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Florencia Lozano who has previously appeared in both Shanley’s Where’s My Money? and Dirty Story is poignant as the dying Trish who seems to have come to terms with both her life and her condition. Her Trish gives Fran some very good advice about how to live her life in the future. In a very different role as Fran’s middle sister Susie, the practical one, coping with her own serious problems, Andrea Syglowski makes the role her own with a performance that is as forceful as written. She may have a terrible life but she is in complete control of the situation in a way Fran is not. She also influences Fran for the better.

Santo Loquasto’s four settings on a revolving turntable are as detailed as movie sets, and create totally different environments: Owen’s laundry, the Brooklyn open air restaurant, Trish’s bedroom in her trailer, and Fran’s studio apartment. The casual costumes by Suzy Benzinger complement both the characters and the settings with Strong’s matching outfits suggesting dressing well on a limited budget. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting is different for each of the four settings, making them completely naturalistic. Best is the lighting for the outdoor restaurant with its strings of lights and the red flashes from the unseen, offstage grill.

Andrea Syglowski and Cecily Strong in a scene from John Patrick Shanley’s “Brooklyn Laundry” at Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center Stage I (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

While Brooklyn Laundry feels like it is missing scenes as of now and could be longer, nevertheless Shanley’s new play is satisfying even if it seems partly underwritten. Under the author’s direction, the cast led by Cecily Strong and David Zayas is entirely in tune with his milieu and his story. Visually the play takes us to several places that are both intriguing and mundane. Writing about love and loss, John Patrick Shanley once again proves that ordinary people can be the stuff of drama.

Brooklyn Laundry (extended through April 14, 2024)

Manhattan Theatre Club

New York City Center Stage I, 131 W. 55th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.nycitycenter.org

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (984 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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