How the Women of Brooklyn Laundry Are Balancing the Burden of Care | Playbill

Off-Broadway News How the Women of Brooklyn Laundry Are Balancing the Burden of Care

Cecily Strong, Florencia Lozano, and Andrea Syglowski muddle through the strain of support in John Patrick Shanley's newest play, now Off-Broadway.

Andrea Syglowski and Cecily Strong Jeremy Daniel

Caretaking is a full-time job. A necessary one, but a job all the same.

While often fulfilling, the act of wholly caring for another person, day in and day out, is incredibly taxing. Be it parenthood, teaching, nursing, or palliative care, the emotional weight that comes along with shouldering the safety and survival of another cannot be denied. When shared amongst a wider support network, that weight is a manageable necessity within community, but when shouldered alone, it can be crushing.

In Brooklyn Laundry, now playing at Manhattan Theatre Club through April 14, playwright John Patrick Shanley is wrestling head-on with the ramifications of carrying that weight, and the ways in which it can pressurize the relationship between siblings. Centering on three sisters on the brink of facing their own mortality, the piece is remarkably cathartic.

"I certainly thought it was funny, but I really thought it was just devastating," shares star Cecily Strong, who plays youngest sister Fran. "It just feels limitless."

Florencia Lozano, who plays the terminally ill eldest sister Trish, was also drawn to the work due to its emotional breadth. "Shanley's writing is really, really exquisite in this play. You can feel how personal it is to him, and it truly is extraordinary," she says. "There is so much to explore about the dynamic of these three sisters."

Set in modern day New York, Brooklyn Laundry finds the harried Fran at a crossroads in her personal life. Unmarried, childless, and living in a small Brooklyn apartment, she tiptoes toward romance with her relentlessly optimistic dry cleaner Owen (played by David Zayas), all the while juggling her relationship with her frustratingly focused middle sister Susie (played by Andrea Syglowski), and the familial impact of Trish's decline.

The burden of care, and the emotional upheaval it places upon the backs of caregivers, is a vivid thread throughout for all four characters. Equally threaded throughout is the lack of choice many women experience when these situations arise within a family structure.

Andrea Syglowski and Cecily Strong Jeremy Daniel

"It consumes a lot of my thoughts," Syglowski confesses, referring to the expectation that daughters will always, invariably, rise to the occasion in the face of family tragedy. "My sister is the one doing it right now, as we speak. She's taking care of my father, who fell, and the burden of guilt and shame that I feel to not be there right now is so huge. And, for my sister it hasn't happened yet because she is amazing, but if she had some resentment about being the sibling that had to take care of everybody, she would be entitled to that resentment."

Syglowski plays Susie, the sister to whom much of the family's caregiving responsibilities have fallen. Having nursed their mother through the end of her life while saddled with a hapless husband and a disabled child whose needs are ignored by everyone but her, her breaking point in the face of Fran's romantic breakthrough nearly leads to a total breakdown of their sisterly bond.

Sibling dynamics aren't the only relationships affected by this kind of breakdown. When a woman is diagnosed with a terminal illness, she is six times more likely to be abandoned by her husband: the problem is so widespread that many medical professionals have begun warning women of the likelihood that they will be left behind when they are no longer able to shoulder the burden of care for others, instead becoming the one for which care is necessary. 

"Susie is just brutal," Syglowski explains, referring to the explosive scene between Susie and Fran that shatters Fran's romantic illusions of a care-free future. "The burden of what her life has been, who she married and the care her son requires... I would be upset too! I would be disappointed in Roger, I'd be disappointed for Gus, I'd be disappointed in Fran for not literally taking the steering wheel. The responsibility always falls on the women: I don't think my brother is thinking, 'Oh, I should be there with daddy right now'. He's the oldest, but it's me and my sister who are trying to figure it out."

"And there are parallels!" Lozano jumps in. "If a guy shows up as a dad, if he wears the baby Bjorn and takes care of his child, it's always 'Oh, he's so cute; he's such a great dad'. And if the woman has any hesitation about it, there's so much misogyny against her. If Cecily's character hadn't stepped up, the audience would have turned on her! But if David doesn't step it up at the end, well-" Lozano draws out the word for effect, leading Syglowski and Strong into a fit of laughter before Lozano can finish her point. "We applaud him because he does, but our expectations are so different when it comes to men and women."

Make no mistake: Brooklyn Laundry is still, for most of its run time, a comedy. But gallows humor requires a desperate situation from which to draw from.

"I'm one of three sisters," Lozano explains, drawing a comparison between her real and onstage life. "It was really fascinating to step into playing the oldest, because really I'm the youngest. This idea of being around first, the primacy to that, and it carries such responsibility and meaning. You take care of those who haven't been around as long, those who don't have the experiences you have had." A beacon of light from her deathbed, Trish's oscillations between providing her sisters with a source of laughter, as well as a pre-emptive guide through her own loss, is remarkably affecting (underscored by the emotive stylings of Lana Del Rey.)

Cecily Strong and Florencia Lozano Jeremy Daniel

"This really is Shanley at his best," Strong shares, bumping her shoulder against Lozano. "We've all been really lucky and happy to get to say these words that he's written." 

The trio have organized an altar in their joint dressing room, paying homage to the individuals who cared for them early in life as well as to those they have personally cared for at the end. That life has continued on in spite of such demonstrable loss is a lesson in and of itself.

"I told John it's like a car crash on the way to the funeral," Strong smirks. "But you have to keep going, and your story will keep growing. We just turned 40! Well, Flo turned 41," all three laugh. "Life is going to hit you with everything it's got at some point. And to come out the other side with this love story... there is hope, always. You've just gotta get through the hard stuff to find it."

Photos: Brooklyn Laundry Off-Broadway

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