Reviewed by Jess Linde
IAMA Theater Company at the Lounge Theater Hollywood
Through November 19
Starting just after a mysterious mass disappearance of all but two of the inmates of a women’s prison, John Lavelle’s new play Sinners Laundry triggers an early onset of anxiety. Trapped in a rec room with nothing but board games and one another, Sam (Christine Woods) and Jess (Courtney Sauls) begin to talk and try to stay sane. As an ironic first move, the two assume that the Catholic rapture has just occurred, and they have been left behind because of their sins.
At first, Sam’s sardonic resignation regarding her fate puts the younger Jess on the ropes, with the latter manically self-justifying her entire life prior to the actions that put her in jail. Jess’s obsessive naiveté pushes Sam’s buttons, and she pushes back. Arguments escalate, proverbial tables are turned, but the door stays locked, and both women are forced to confront who they are really locked up with, and why they were spared.
The palpable tension throughout Sinner’s Laundry is a testament to this IAMA Theater Company production. Rachel Myers’ set — a small area of the rec-room, with scattered props and a few chairs — is simple yet effective; it’s tight but open enough to allow the actors full range of motion. The clothes of those who’ve vanished litter the floor, creating a sense of claustrophobia and abandonment before anyone says a word on stage. Director Becca Wolff utilizes the space in full, blocking the characters in ways that magnify each tonal shift and plot progression. Woods and Sauls are simply fantastic in their respective roles, embodying fully created people, and always keeping the audience’s attention. Woods is both funny and heartbreaking once Sam becomes vulnerable, and the range of emotion and life that Sauls brings to Jess is incredible.
Most every part of the production fits together, and what is happening is always clear — which is especially helpful as the play becomes more and more histrionic, and the characters begin to yell most of their dialogue. This escalation builds mood and pushes the plot to a degree, but while both characters shout, only one of them seems to gain anything from it; as a result, the other’s character development feels sidelined.
This sudden shift in focus made me reexamine the story’s themes from a new direction. I could not help but wonder how the other story might have played out, and wish that both characters had had more closure. Still, the performances are good enough that Sinner’s Laundry is compelling from start to finish.
The Lounge Theater, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 4, 8 p.m.; through November 19. (323) 380-8843 or www.iamatheatre.com. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.