Sunday, June 16, 2013

THERE'S A GUN IN YOUR GOODBYE BAG • OnSite Theatre Company

Where else can you take in a show and get some laundry done at the same time, I ask you?  OnSite's distinctive characteristic is that its shows are staged "on site", and this world premiere written by St. Louis native Elizabeth Birkenmeier (who appeared in OnSite's Bowling Epiphany - The Revival! last season), takes place at Classic Coin Laundry in University City.

While guitarist Rob Birkenmeier provides the welcoming pre-show music, we staked out our places to sit.  Some sat in chairs and others were perched on top of washing machines in the middle of the laundromat.  During the course of the play we meet people who, while waiting for their loads to get done, share their stories -- stories about kindred spirits met and loves lost.  Ruby (Amanda Swearingen), sleeping on one of the machines, is the first one we meet.  She has a hard time telling her waking life from her dream-reality because she's experimenting with polyphasic sleep, napping for 20 minutes 6 times a day.  She'd hoped that a dryer cycle would allow enough time for a little snooze, but since it's not timing out the way she'd planned, she talks to us.  There's a boy she met in Michigan where things got too heavy and she split, a girl she was really into, and one who was really into her.  She doesn't deal with emotionally challenging terrain too well, and usually ends up lying to get herself out uncomfortable situations.  After a bit, Iva (Michelle Hand) comes in barking orders at a young man.  We learn that the guy she's with is a drifter, and she's taken him off of the street and to the laundromat, thinking he probably needs clean clothes.  As bossy and neurotic as she is, she tries to do the right thing -- to comfort.  She talks about her husband who dresses in women's clothes, and a boy she met whose father drowned in Michigan.

Antonio Rodriguez (Gus) and Michelle Hand (Iva). 
Photo credit: Meagan Stevenson
Right as a strong feeling of déjà vu starts to kick in, Lenny (Rachel Hanks), who enters asking about a car in the parking lot, discovers Ruby there, and they seem to share a sense of mutual recognition.  Then there's Gus (Antonio Rodriguez).  He comes in placating his developmentally childlike older sister who is insisting she have her socks, even though they're not dry yet.  After striking up a conversation with Ruby, we find out that he's been the sole caretaker of his sister ever since they became orphans after the loss of their father.  There's a lost love of his, too -- a girl he met in Michigan who ran off all of a sudden.  Gus never saw her again.

Birkenmeier has cleverly connected these characters together with a surreal crossing of paths  -- made even more surreal by the setting and the real folks who come in and out to do their laundry.  Under Edward Coffield's seamless direction, the cast of four disappear into their roles and perform wonderfully with each other and in the space.  Swearingen holds her own as Ruby, stuck between reality and non-reality, delivering a charming performance.  Hand completely inhabits two roles -- one as Iva, anxious and a little "type A", tempered with a lonely lack of connection, and the second as the developmentally challenged sister, convincing, funny and compelling to watch.  Gus has had his share of sadness, and Rodriguez makes him likable, layered and engaging.  Hanks also authentically portrays Lenny, an unexpected blast from Ruby's past.

Running at right around fifty minutes, this intriguing unique little play leaves it up to you to decide which side of reality the play takes place in, and lends itself to second viewings.  So, if you have any loads to get done, or even if you don't, head down to Classic Coin for an absorbing, different theatre-going experience.  It's playing until the 29th.


Rachel Hanks (Lenny), Amanda Swearingen (Ruby)
and Michelle Hand (Iva).
THERE'S A GUN IN YOUR GOODBYE BAG

Written by Elizabeth Birkenmeier
Directed by Edward Coffield
Classic Coin Laundry, 7200 Balson Ave.
through June 29 | tickets: $20
Performances Fridays at 8pm and Saturdays at 5pm and 8pm

Cast:
Michelle Hand (Iva), Rachel Hanks (Lenny), Antonio Rodriguez (Gus), Amanda Swearingen (Ruby) and Rob Birkenmeier (The Musician).

Creative:
Stage manager, Adam Hunn.

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