No playwright could ask for a better cast or finer production design than IAMA Theatre Company has given John Lavelle’s Sinner’s Laundry. Audiences, on the other hand, may find themselves leaving the Lounge Theatre clueless to the message, meaning, or simple raison d’être of Lavelle’s World Premiere absurdist existentialist comedy. I certainly did.

Whether as a result of an Apocalypse or The Rapture, fellow inmates Jess (Courtney Sauls) and Sam (Christine Woods) now find themselves the last two women on earth, or at the very least the last two within the prison cell they have till this moment shared with a roomful of convicted criminals whose uniforms now lay strewn about their cell.

Incontrovertible evidence of The Rapture, the hard-edged Sam insists, with only “the evil ones left behind,” an assertion goody-two-shoes Jess refuses to believe because, unlike her sole surviving cellmate who absolutely should be in prison, she’s a good girl whose presence here must be somebody’s “slip-up.”

Sam and Jess soon find themselves chatting about matters metaphysical.

First of all, they decide to call God “Tiffany” because it’s a name that even deity-fearing Jess couldn’t possibly be afraid of. Later, Sam recounts the tale of the one person she knew who went to heaven, her cousin Sheila, who died for eleven minutes and swears she saw Frank Sinatra there “smoking a J.” After that, the twosome get into a discussion of what constitutes an apology and what doesn’t. (“Saying that you’re sorry about how I feel is not an apology,” declares Jess. “It’s a negation of my feelings.”)

And so it goes for the next eighty minutes or so.

It’s not that Sam and Jess’s chitchat doesn’t generate laughs. It does. Still, anyone attempting to fathom why the duo are where they are or why we should care what happens to them or indeed what prompted Lavelle’s riff on Sartre’s No Exit in the first place may find themselves as clueless as I was from start to (deliberately cryptic) finish.

At the very least, Sinner’s Laundry’s provides an acting showcase for Sauls, fresh from her trippy-treat of a performance in The Road Theatre’s Little Children Dream Of God, and for Woods, every bit the dynamo here that she was in IAMA’s A Dog’s House a couple years back, the duo delivering the sweet-and-sour goods under Becca Wolff’s electric direction.

And speaking of electricity, a number of scripted power outages and AC/DC-gone-haywire moments give Josh Epstein and Scot Ginelli plenty of chances to strut their lighting design stuff with Peter Bayne providing numerous sound design jolts along the way in addition to his pulsating original music.

Design kudos go too to costume designer Melissa Trn for some authentic-looking “new black” uniforms, Michael O’Hara for cell-appropriate paraphernalia on Rachel Myers’ realistic prison set, and Karen Renee for painting the walls all shades of dingy, and Edgar Landa contributes some exciting girl-fight choreography along the way.

Sinner’s Laundry is produced by Tom DeTrinis and Jen Houget. Amber Caras is stage manager. Lenny Wolff is technical director. Alex Alcheh is assistant director. Giovanni Adams is dramaturg. Casting is by Jordan Bass and Bass Casting. Anna Lamadrid and Sarah Utterback understudy the roles of Jess and Sam.

Fans of absurdist, existentialist comedies may find Sinner’s Laundry a good deal more to their liking than I did. For this reviewer at least, it’s a case of “I admire the production values and the acting” but “I could do without the play.”

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Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard. Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
October 29, 2017
Photos: Dean Cechvala


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