The Citiblog

Cecily Strong Shores Up Brooklyn Laundry
February 29, 2024, 12:04.03 am ET


Photo: Jeremy Daniel

By Brian Scott Lipton

Someday, I suspect some arts organization will put on a festival of works by John Patrick Shanley that focuses on his penchant for unlikely couples, which will include his landmark first play “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” his Broadway outing “Outside Mullingar” and the Oscar-winning film “Moonstruck.”

Now, another play can be added to this repertoire, “Brooklyn Laundry,” currently getting its world premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center Stage 1. But whoever that festival producer turns out to be, they may want to ask Shanley to expand this engaging, 75-minute work to give more background and substance to its main female character.

Fortunately, our protagonist, Fran Costello, is here in the very capable hands of former “Saturday Night Live” star Cecily Strong, who creates a person we want to root for, even when the often disgruntled and oversensitive Fran is at her most irritating. We first meet Fran as she drops off her dirty laundry (metaphor, anyone?) at her favorite local cleaning establishment (one of four amazingly detailed sets by the great Santo Loquasto), but, strangely, she doesn’t recognize the man at the other end of the transaction. That’s because it turns out to be Owen (the remarkable David Zayas), the laundromat’s owner, who is covering for an absent employee.

For the next few minutes, the pair bicker a bit, flirt a bit, philosophize a little, lie a little, and eventually agree to have dinner once Fran returns from a mysterious trip. It seems like the beginning of a standard rom-com, but Shanley (who also directed this production) isn’t willing to let us settle for simple laughs.

Indeed, two of the next three scenes involve somewhat harrowing visits to Fran’s two much-older sisters: Trish (a fantastic Florencia Lozano), who maintains an unusual optimism – partially drug-induced -- despite the fact that she’s on the verge of death in her Pennsylvania trailer; and Susie (an almost terrifyingly fierce Andrea Syglowski), who – to put it mildly – turns out to have troubles of her own. These scenes are well-detailed and Lozano and Syglowski prove to be excellent acting partners for Strong.

Admittedly, we learn a little bit more about Fran from these encounters -- as well as from her unusual dinner date with Owen (which includes an embarrassing, slightly shocking revelation on his part.) Among the revelations: Fran has never fully connected to these women, or their mother, perhaps because of their age difference. She waited six years to clean and return a jacket Trish once lent her. She is easy to persuade. She is also extremely indecisive (for example, she’s been carrying four nearly identical paint chips in her purse for three years – and has no intention of using any of them). She wants what she can’t have instead of what she can.

These are all great character traits, but, somehow, they just don’t add up to a full-fledged character. Indeed, as with many of Shanley’s previous female protagonists, Fran’s defining characteristic is that she essentially turns out to be someone who has been scared to embrace life.

Luckily, we sense a change in attitude when she makes a not-insignificant decision about Owen. Still, we don’t find out until the end of the play if Fran will wash her hands of a particularly difficult situation or if she will get down and dirty? Strong and Shanley do manage to keep us guessing (while he also adds in one completely unforeseen twist!)

Yes, one might argue that the final scenes of this show could come from a soap opera, but that seems only apropos in a piece called “Brooklyn Laundry.”

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