Reviews NYCOff-Broadway Published 26 March 2024

Brooklyn Laundry at MTC NY City Center

New York City Center - Stage I ⋄ 6th February to 14th April 2024

Life is all out of chicken in this troubling new play served up by John Patrick Shanley. Nicole Serratore reviews.

Nicole Serratore

Brooklyn Laundry (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

For most of the play, I thought that John Patrick Shanley’s new play Brooklyn Laundry was kind of eye-rolling, innocuous romance with questionable ideas about accepting reality over some romanticized version of the world. But then in the final reel, it becomes much clearer that this play has some pernicious views and an icky stance on gender roles.

I’m not sure why we are doing this in 2024. But there’s nothing cute, romantic, or revealing in this speedy but shallow look at one woman’s life of unhappy accidents.

Fran (Cecily Strong) is struggling at a dead-end job and with a life she is too afraid to live. She was always an anxious child, her father abandoned the family, and it sounds like she never got much support or care growing up. With a big age gap, her two older sisters are basically strangers to her.

With a banter-filled flirtation at the laundry scale, she ends up hitting it off with a local laundromat owner Owen (David Zayas) and after only a few weeks she decides to invest in this relationship and her own happiness. Perhaps for the first time ever in her life, she chooses a path for herself.

But apparently with her doomed family this is not to last. Her older sister Trish (Florencia Lozano) is dying of cancer and has two kids who need to be taken care of—Fran is forced to take them. Her other sister Susie (Andrea Syglowki) also springs a surprise on Fran and commandeers Fran’s life as well.

While bad things can happen to good people, and support systems are often faulty, it does boggle the mind that this woman is now supposed to just “step up” to address her sisters’ family situations without really a say in it.

Further, Shanley structures this so Fran is browbeaten into compliance—it’s all on a short timeline and with little care for her feelings (because other people’s feelings take precedence). This doesn’t give me the warm and fuzzies about “family” nor does it even present a tragedy of circumstances because of the ramrod fashion of execution.

The play’s premise and design is abusive–maybe Shanley would call it self-sacrifice or some other bullshit.

But it is also happens adjacent to the low key negging that has already been happening on the “romance” side of things for Fran. At first, Owen thinks Fran is like his ex-girlfriend and keeps emphasizing that she’s “gloomy” but “one inch from terrific.” I guess that’s a compliment in someone’s book. But not mine.

Then they go on a date where high on shrooms they lay their vulnerabilities bare. Amidst this conversation, Fran tells him how much she struggles to make decisions and is even troubled with the deciding what to eat this restaurant. Finally, in an epiphany, she declares she wants to eat chicken. And Owen says that’s not on the menu. Cue laugh track.

It’s supposed to be some kind of metaphor and Owen espouses a philosophy that is grounded in reality and not romance.

Owen: “And this is exactly when reality becomes super important. You must choose from what exists on the menu, Fran, and not choose the invisible thing in your mind.”

Fran: “But I like the invisible thing best.”

Owen: “That’s the romantic bullshit, and I’m against it. It robs people of their actual lives.”

Deal with what is only on the menu.  Life, I guess, is all out of chickens, except, it in no way is.

What a good partner would do would be to hear what Fran needs and get up and go to a restaurant with chicken. A thing that is very possible to do in New York City. But we are not inhabiting the land of good partners (or maybe we are in a chicken-devoid section of the Big Apple). It just emphasizes that Fran is trapped by people who are dictating her life for her and her desires again get buried.

I could not help but notice Shanley quoting Mishima in the Playbill: “Beauty is something that burns the hand when you touch it.” Where is the beauty in this story or these characters? The sisters don’t know each other at all. Each of them has made poor choices of partners. Their kids bear the consequences.

Is this kind of character suffering beautiful? Is not ever seeing the people around you beautiful? Is this kind of expectation that women just single handedly solve everyone’s problems at great cost to herself ennobling?

Putting aside the source of the quote (Mishima’s novel involves a gay character who is taking revenge on women for just existing as women) and Mishima’s obsession with the masculine and the feminine (for his own complicated reasons), Shanley’s are troubling enough on the face of this play.

In the final moments of the play, Fran makes this declaration:

“You gotta excuse me, but I gotta say it. You’re a man, Owen. I didn’t even know
what that was, but here you are. You’re a man. And I mean that like forever.”

You gotta excuse me but what the LITERAL FUCK does that mean? Am I supposed to be filling in some blanks here on what a man is based on this play? Are we to intuit this based on some backwards traditional gender roles? Because Owen agrees to get back together with Fran (spoiler) even though her life is filled with the obligations of others, Owen has done a “manly” duty of some kind?

Will he let her eat chicken?

Bad plays happen to good people and this cast deserves material that is not dragging us back to a rigidly gendered stone age.

Nicole Serratore

Nicole Serratore writes about theater for Variety, The Stage, American Theatre magazine, and TDF Stages. She previously wrote for the Village Voice and Flavorpill. She was a co-host and co-producer of the Maxamoo theater podcast. She is a member of the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.

Brooklyn Laundry at MTC NY City Center Show Info

Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club

Directed by John Patrick Shanley

Written by John Patrick Shanley

Scenic Design Santo Loquasto (scenic), Suzy Benzinger (costume)

Lighting Design Brian MacDevitt

Sound Design John Gromada

Cast includes Florencia Lozano, Cecily Strong, Andrea Syglowski, David Zayas

Show Details & Tickets


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