OnSite is an adventurous little group that does plays especially written for the most unlikely venues—a bowling alley, a bar, a day-care center. But this venue is pretty weird even for them; it's a laundromat.
As you might suppose, there is limited seating. (I watched it while happily, comfortably [and voluntarily] perched on a shelf above a row of washing machines.) But this beautiful play deserves larger audiences than the dozen or so who saw it with me last Saturday.
Besides the audience there are a few actual customers doing their laundry. A guitarist sets up in one corner. Then we notice a girl curled up napping atop a washer. She wears comfy tights and what might be a jammy top. As the play starts she wakes and we learn that she is Ruby. She has adopted a personal discipline called "polyphasic sleeping": she sleeps for only twenty-minutes, six times a day. She'd hoped to synchronize these naps with the drier cycles, but the driers won't cooperate.
Shortly a woman called Iva arrives with a shabbily-clad young man in tow. This is Gus. Iva seems compelled to be a sort of one-woman outreach to the homeless and she insists on washing some of poor Gus' clothes.
The talk is natural, the kind of opening of self that might be unlikely with friends but possible with a stranger, late at night in a Laundromat. And yet at times there are lovely little soliloquies. Ancient memories arise. The poses one took while tentatively feeling one's way around high-school romances are revisited. A child who watched a man drown finds herself involved with the man's son decades later. A young man explains the mysteries of making moonshine to a Hippie girl one romantic summer in New Orleans. She disappears. Years later . . . did she really die? Or is it you, Ruby?
Another young woman arrives. Is it Lenny, the girl that Ruby loved years ago? Or did Lenny love Ruby? And who is she now? Is she a man now?
All the while the characters, or at least their relationships, shape-change before us. Phrases are repeated—but from different lips. At one point Iva becomes a child—or a woman with a child's mind. She's given to tantrums of insecurity.
Director Ed Coffield gets strong and beautiful work from his actors—Michelle Hand as Iva, Rachel Hanks as Lenny, Antonio Rodriguez as Gus, and Amanda Swearingen as Ruby. Miss Swearingen was particularly engaging—sensitive, inviting intimacy, and authentically sleep-deprived. Guitarist Robert Birkenmeier sweetens the air.
It's all fascinating! Cycles recur, memories and bondings become more complex.
We hesitate to seize on love. As Ruby says, "we only talk about what we know how to talk about." We attempt to hide ourselves through poses—or lies. We need.
It is, ultimately, quite beautiful. And it is, altogether, one great hour-long poem.
The title was intriguing when I first saw it. It remains a mystery to me now. But no matter: "There's a Gun in Your Goodbye Bag" is a beautiful piece. It plays at the Classic Coin Laundry through June 29. (Classic Coin Laundry is located at Midland and Balson in U. City, just southwest of Heman Park.) For more information: onsitetheatre.org.