When the door opens for the audience to file into the forty-nine seat venue of Lounge 1 at the Lounge Theatres in Hollywood for a matinee performance of John Lavelle’s new play, Sinner’s Laundry, they are greeted with hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll sung with gritty style by female vocalists. The set by Rachel Myers features the same box frame used for Redline, which plays in rep with Sinner’s Laundry, but with significant changes. Instead of a cozy living room, the set represents a shabby rec room in a women’s prison with a television screen flickering its light in the downstage left corner, and an industrial-grey door upstage with a slim, vertical security window above a locked door knob. A couple of generic plastic and steel chairs are draped with orange jumpsuits and pairs of shoes on the floor ready to be put on. More jumpsuits are scattered here and there. While waiting for the show to start, this audience member and his faithful companion puzzled over what we saw. Perhaps they are laid out as if for a quick change, my companion suggested, who has been in the past a Broadway wardrobe supervisor. Hmmm…a tantalizing mystery.
Lights out. Lights up, and we see two women in orange jumpsuits, obviously prisoners, also puzzling over the situation. One, Jess (Courtney Sauls), is convinced that the rapture has occurred and they are the left-behinds. The other, Sam (Christine Woods), is not a believer. But, whatever, there they are alone in a locked room with no sign that there is anyone outside who could open the door and let them out. It is an existential crisis à la Waiting for Godot. Jess, who shows a persona that is warm and friendly, maintains that she is a good person and that there has been a mistake, while Sam, a hard-bitten motor mouth who moves with energy and a certain looseness, knows she is bad and deserves her fate. The sharp repartee between the women makes it seem as though Sam is the dominant person, but as the play progresses and the onion is peeled, their stories get told in fits and starts, always under the pressure of their impossible circumstance. Jess comes through with surprising strength as they reveal the events that led them to this particular time and place. Sam’s life is a melancholy story of guilt and unfortunate events, while Jess details step-by-step the escalating series of actions, brought about by an initial good intent, that inevitably put her in jail.
Mr. Lavelle’s excellent script has an abundance of grim humor and absurdity, which the actors play up with abandon. The splendid team of Sauls and Woods, who provide plenty of well-earned laughs, also invest the action with an affecting pathos that leads up to a gripping conclusion, which enhances, but does not explain, the central mystery of the situation.
The same creative team that is so successful with Redline—scenic design by Ms. Myers, lighting design by Josh Epstein, original music and sound design by Peter Bayne, costumes by Melissa Trn, and props by Michael O’Hara—is just as effective with Sinner’s Laundry.
Produced by Jen Hoguet and Tom DeTrinis for IAMA Theatre Company, Sinner’s Laundry, directed with abundant savvy by Becca Wolff, found this theatre commentator, against tradition, the first one on his feet to applaud this superb show. Sinner’s Laundry runs in repertory with Redline through November 19 at The Lounge Theatres, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood.