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Brooklyn Laundry mixes the lights and the darks

Brooklyn Laundry is a deceptive show: It begins with a meet-cute and briefly lulls you into the sense that it will unspool as something of a rom-com. But playwright John Patrick Shanley isn’t one for gauzy love stories. His dialogue is spiked with knives, his humor darker than the grave. Budding romance is fragile under the best of circumstances—and in Brooklyn Laundry, the romance that starts to blossom in the first scene is quickly all but buried under a crush of real-life tragedies. 

Directed by BJ Jones, the production is 75 minutes of can’t-look-away intensity, at once a love story, a death story, an acidic comedy, and—cliched though it sounds—a testimony to the power of taking a massive chance on the future while the present has you buried under a landslide of grief. 

The four-person drama plays out in a series of impeccably paced two-person scenes, each adding fresh context to what’s come before and heightening the stakes for what comes after. The through line is Fran (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason), fresh off a painful breakup as she drops off her laundry with Owen (Mark Montgomery), the owner of the titular washery. Fran is one of three sisters, and like Owen, her siblings Trish (Marika Mashburn) and Susie (Sandra Delgado) are grappling with catastrophic health issues. Only one of the women will be alive by the play’s final scene, her life utterly unrecognizable after the deaths of the other two. 

Shanley excels in piecing out just enough information to keep the play moving ruthlessly forward, peppering what sounds like the grimmest of tales with wry humor. The dire question threaded through each scene: How does a person continue their life when tragedy has rendered it completely alien? The answer isn’t ambiguous in Brooklyn Laundry, but it’s also brutal.

Jones’s quartet is without flaw. Montgomery is a deceptively soft-spoken everyman as he works the register and weighs his customers’ sacks of dirty clothes. Slaughter-Mason’s Fran is heartbreaking as she attempts to navigate a stranglehold of family obligations with her desperate need to reboot her own life. Mashburn is deeply affecting as a woman looking down the barrel of a terminal diagnosis. Delgado turns Susie’s pragmatism into jagged bolts of rage and foresight that pierce her sister’s soul. 

Brooklyn Laundry offers a dizzying study in contrast between life’s relentless, unyielding sorrows and the stubborn, buoyant hope that is a necessity to survive them. 

And kudos to set designer Jeffrey Kmiec, who has turned the Northlight stage into a massive dry cleaner, tiers upon tiers of garment bags framed by girders that evoke the Brooklyn Bridge.


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