• THEATRE REVIEW

      – “Sinner’s Laundry”

      Courtney Sauls and Christine Woods in "Sinner’s Laundry" (Photo - Dean Cechvala).

      Courtney Sauls and Christine Woods in “Sinner’s Laundry” (Photo – Dean Cechvala).

      Friday night launched the IAMA Theatre Company’s 10th Anniversary celebration and the premiere of Sinner’s Laundry, one of two original plays making their world debut last weekend in Hollywood’s Lounge Theatre.

      By Melanie Hooks

      Appropriately, the bar lounge was abuzz with hipsters and Old Fashioneds, young hopefuls, and just enough “made it” talent to lend the entire affair a happening, show biz tone.

      But all the Bright Young Things needn’t have tried so hard. The real excitement was onstage – real acting chops aplenty with Courtney Sauls and Christine Woods, both with plenty to do, thanks to a smart, passionate script by actor/playwright John Lavelle. In fact, all three hold legit claims to having “made it” already, with stage, film, and television awards and prestige appearances aplenty.

      This is the great joy of a troupe like IAMA. These artists don’t need to be here. They want to be. They’re pushing and exploring their possibilities without having to audition for network executives. An earnestness fills the stage akin to any college production, but with the kind of polish that only professional experience brings.

      This isn’t to say the production is flawless. Some early lines of self-taught character Sam (Christine Woods) reflect the speech patterns of an essayist versus the dialogue of a system-raised kid (a few too many ‘from which’es). The logic of the long power outage sequences can be confusing; Light Designer Josh Epstein’s unpredictable flashes add appropriate color radiance to the chaos, but it’s not always clear when the characters can see each other or when that’s only an audience privilege. By and large, however, director Becca Wolfe frames the action into a solid, emotional, beginning, middle and end – not an easy task in a play with only two characters trapped in one locked-down room.

      Score one for originality of plot: two young women inmates, Jess (Courtney Sauls) and Sam (Christine Woods), open the play in the rec room, surrounded by empty orange jumpsuits and guard uniforms, which lay crumpled on the floor around them. Where did everyone go? And why did they leave their clothes? They were there a minute ago…before the flash…before, well, the Rapture. Obviously, Jess says. Doubtful, argues Sam. So begins the verbal (and at one point, awesomely light sabered) jousting that drives the roughly 85 minute production forward (no intermission).

      Jess and Sam debate everything: each others’ names, fellow prisoners’ virtues and sins, board games vs imagination, and above all, reality. Sam, in and out of the justice system her whole life, embraces their new ‘unknown’ status. Jess needs to give it a name, albeit a less scary one, e.g.: can we call God ‘Tiffany?’

      Courtney Sauls and Christine Woods (Photo - Dean Cechvala).

      Courtney Sauls and Christine Woods (Photo – Dean Cechvala).

      As the college girl, first time offender Jess, Sauls fairly sparkles with enthusiasm for goodness and fair play. Her seeming naivety begs the question: what’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? When we do discover the stories behind the shiny curtain, Sauls must bring us both through all-consuming rage and brittle fantasies just at the edge of sanity. It is a true testament to her abilities that we never question for a moment one woman’s ability to inhabit all these truths.

      Woods faces the opposite challenge: revealing Sam’s pain, swathed in cynicism and her tough ‘lifer’ skin. More than this, Woods brings love believably to the table. For a character who’s been through the ringer – or perhaps because of it – Sam sees people dead on. She’s smart, not easily fooled, nor above admitting when she’s wrong. She’s the more grounded of the two, the one more willing to look life in the face and know when she’s beaten. Woods laces this pragmatism with a delicacy of spirit that stays with one after the performance, a welcome lingering of our ability to love, even when shunned.

      Too easily a “play in a box” such as this can become a soapbox for one voice – the playwright’s – and leave behind any real semblance of people dealing with their emotions. So often ideas win out over souls in theater these days. Sinner’s Laundry melds both – a fantastical world in which heightened circumstances force people to face both grand ideas of immortality and our simplest instincts – fear, love, connection. There’s even a surprise set design element in the ending from Designer Rachel Myers; without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say that Lavelle doesn’t leave Jess and Sam entirely alone. At least not forever.

      Sinner’s Laundry runs in repertory with Christian Durso’s new play Redline.

      Sinner’s Laundry
      • Written by by John Lavelle.
      • Directed by Becca Wolff.
      • Light Design: Josh Epstein.
      • Cast: Courtney Sauls & Christine Woods.
      The Lounge Theatre
      6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90038
      Street parking.

      • Through Nov. 19th:
      Fridays – Saturdays: 8:00 pm.
      Sundays: 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm (no 2pm performance on Sunday 11/12).
      • One show: $30. Both shows: $50.
      • Buy tickets here.


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