So…John Paul Sartre Walks Into A Laundromat…

Rachel Hanks, Amanda Swearingen and Michelle Hand gather in a laundromat for some other-worldly doings in OnSite's production of "There's A Gun In Your Goodbye Bag.":

Rachel Hanks, Amanda Swearingen and Michelle Hand gather in a laundromat for some other-worldly doings in OnSite’s production of “There’s A Gun In Your Goodbye Bag.”:

“There’s A Gun In Your Goodbye Bag” is a play set (and staged) in a laundromat. Three strikes against it, right? One for the title, Two for the show, Three for the setting, now go, cats, go! Sorry, I digress. So does this play but it’s such a fascinating study as it seems to cross dimensions and bring substance to hallucinations and everyday perceptions. Written by Elizabeth Birkenmeier, it could be the “No Exit” of today’s generation. Existentialism in a laundromat.

Young Ruby, played with amazing dexterity and insight by Amanda Swearingen, curls up on a washer in the laundromat that becomes the setting for the play. As the audience gathers and finds appropriate seating on coin-operated washers and dryers, folding tables or the random chairs for customers, Ruby enters with her backpack and appears to be taking a cat-nap on top of one of the appliances. When she awakens and stretches, we begin to hear her story of an attempt to gain something (time? energy? kharma?) by practicing polyphasic sleep- sleeping in 20-minute intervals throughout the day. However, it sounds like sleep depravation is all she’s accomplishing as her totals only add up to about two hours of sleep a day.

As she travels in and out of sleep and time, she conjures up people- close friends and chance acquaintances- that, for some reason are all doing their laundry or maybe searching her out. Michelle Hand turns in another beautiful performance as Iva. Whether she is the wife or sister of Gus (doesn’t really matter since this crosses through such conformity), she is brilliant. A tough, aggressive, domineering and exasperated wife and then turning into a timid and shy bundle of nerves in “another character” sharing the same name.

Gus is the milquetoast husband (or is he a vagrant off the street) who, at one point, goes on and on about making the best moonshine. Yet, when asked by Ruby later, Gus (perhaps in another guise) hasn’t the faintest idea of what moonshine is. Antonio Rodriquez travels easily among multiple characters making each his own. Then there’s the enigmatic character of Lenny (maybe a guy, maybe a girl, maybe both) who makes a grand, loud entrance into the laundromat and then discovers her old flame (or something else, perhaps?) in the form of Ruby. The delightful Rachel Hanks is both boisterous and tender in this role that perhaps touches Ruby more than any of the others. Add the subtle guitar background of Robert Birkenmeier and you’ve got a complete, out of body experience.

Rachel Hanks and Amanda Swearingen share a moment- or do they?- in "There's A Gun In Your Goodbye Bag" at OnSite Theatre's production in a laundromat.

Rachel Hanks and Amanda Swearingen share a moment- or do they?- in “There’s A Gun In Your Goodbye Bag” at OnSite Theatre’s production in a laundromat.

With recurring themes and catch phrases such as “We only talked about things we knew how to talk about” (in one form or another), this journey through the time/space continuum is a fascinating character study as well as a damn fine play. Edward Coffield masterfully directs this incongruous chance meeting in a laundromat with savvy and wit. Despite the obvious problems involved such as noisy machines being used by actual customers, unorthodox seating arrangements and a slightly damp atmosphere due to laundry being done in a tight space and not much air circulation, this thing actually works. You won’t be disappointed by taking in this quirky little piece of ethereal fantasy in the most unconventional of places.

Kudos to OnSite Theatre, Elizabeth Birkenmeier and company in bringing us a most unusual and yet totally satisfying experience. “There’s A Gun In Your Goodbye Bag” plays at the Classic Coin Laundry in University City through June 29th. Bring a load of laundry and enjoy this fifty-minute flight into another dimension. Call OnSite Theatre at 314-686-0062 or at for tickets or more information.

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