Reviews

Brooklyn Laundry ****, Pericles ****

By: David Sheward

April 22, 2024: Comedy, tragedy and romance collide in Brooklyn Laundry, John Patrick Shanley’s latest depiction of damaged souls stumbling towards connection, at Manhattan Theater Club’s Off-Broadway City Center space. Like his Oscar-winning screenplay for Moonstruck, Brooklyn Laundry matches two unlikely lovers coming together despite their troubled pasts. The comedy begins gently but after numerous twists and turns into darker territory, this witty, endearing play evolves into a wise lesson on playing the hand life has dealt you. Stanley’s hand as director of his own work is as sure and steady as the one he uses to write the detail-laden and character-revealing dialogue.

David Zayas and Cecily Strong in “Brooklyn Laundry”.

By: David Sheward

April 22, 2024: Comedy, tragedy and romance collide in Brooklyn Laundry, John Patrick Shanley’s latest depiction of damaged souls stumbling towards connection, at Manhattan Theater Club’s Off-Broadway City Center space. Like his Oscar-winning screenplay for Moonstruck, Brooklyn Laundry matches two unlikely lovers coming together despite their troubled pasts. The comedy begins gently but after numerous twists and turns into darker territory, this witty, endearing play evolves into a wise lesson on playing the hand life has dealt you. Stanley’s hand as director of his own work is as sure and steady as the one he uses to write the detail-laden and character-revealing dialogue.

Andrea Syglowski and Cecily Strong in Brooklyn Laundry.

We start out simply enough with gloomy Fran (a wondrously confused and conflicted Cicely Strong of SNL fame) dropping off her dirty clothes at the titular establishment, designed with an eye for telling detail by Santo Loquasto. The laundry is owned by the optimistic Owen (a roughly charming David Zayas). Fran grumbles about her boring job and lackluster love life while Owen looks on the up side of getting hit by a car and losing his previous office position which resulted in a double lawsuit and a financial windfall. After verbally jousting over their opposing life views and Fran’s long missing bundle of previous laundry, they acknowledge a mutual attraction (“I felt a pinch,” Owen remarks) and agree to meet for dinner.

The play then takes a sharp turn onto the road to potential melodrama. Loquasto’s amazingly life-like set revolves to reveal the interior of a trailer in rural Pennsylvania where Fran’s sister Trish (a moving Florencia Lozano) is dying of cancer. It seems Fran’s family has a history of disaster—a second sister Susie (hysterically sarcastic Andrea Syglowski) later appears with her own cartload of troubles. Fran keeps these tribulations from Owen in the hopes of presenting herself as a positive package. It turns out Owen has  relationship issues as well. As a result of his accident, sexual intimacy is a source of anxiety and fear. 

David Zayas and Cecily Strong in Brooklyn Laundry.

Will Fran and Owen get together despite their mutual trepidation? Will Fran’s lost laundry ever be found? These questions and the basic premise make the play sound a bit like a soap opera, but Shanley endows this tender story with such compassion and humor that its occasional plot excesses seem plausible. Strong and Zayas play off each other marvelously, particularly during a marvelously funny dinner scene when each character is high on hallucinogenic mushrooms. (Brian MacDevitt’s rosy lighting helps set the dreamy mood.) Life is suddenly strange and beautiful for both of them, but tragedy intervenes and sends them crashing down to earth. As in so many of his plays and screenplays, Shanley gives these two eloquent expression in everyday language  of the push-pull of love and life. He shows us that romance, tenderness and redemption are possible anywhere, even in a Brooklyn Laundry

Devin E. Haqq in Pericles

Shakespeare’s rarely performed Pericles also has numerous unbelievable plot twists and follows the titular troubles prince from shipwreck to captivity to final credulity-defying reunion with his loved ones. In its story-theater version at CSC, Fiasco Theater pulls off a similar feat of rescuing a potentially soapy production from too many suds. Ben Steinfield’s tight, rapid staging bounces us from continent to continent with inventive use of props and a game cast playing multiple roles, this obscure adventure becomes a fun frolic.

Brooklyn Laundry ****
Feb. 28—April 14. Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St., NYC. Running time: 90 mins. with no intermission. nycitycenter.org.
Photography: Jeremy Daniels

Cecily Strong and Florencia Lozano in Brooklyn Laundry.

Pericles ****
Feb. 24—March 24. Fiasco Theater at Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St., NYC. Running time: two hours and 20 mins. with one intermission. classicstage.org
Photography: Austin Ruffer

Emily Young, Paul L. Coffey, Noah Brody and Tatiana Weschler in Pericles.