Two bruised, lonely people find love in poignant ‘Brooklyn Laundry’

“Brooklyn Laundry” — 3 stars

Like many middle-aged folks, Fran and Owen have baggage.

The central characters in “Brooklyn Laundry” — John Patrick Shanley’s new play currently running at Northlight Theatre as part of a rolling premiere — they are bruised, disappointed and more than a little lonely.

In this mildly funny, consciously poignant play about challenges, choices and last chances, Fran (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) and Owen (Mark Montgomery) don’t meet cute. They meet mundane.

She’s a world-weary regular dropping off dirty clothes at the full-service laundry. He’s the amiable owner filling in for an absent employee. A white-collar worker dissatisfied with her job, Fran is newly single and sleep-deprived. Struck by a car several years earlier, Owen suffered a serious back injury that hindered his sexual performance and ended his engagement. Fired from his job, he used the settlement from his personal injury and wrongful termination lawsuits to open a full-service laundry. Strikingly depicted by set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec, it’s represented by rows of garment conveyors stacked several stories high — a visual reminder of the overwhelming issues with which Shanley’s characters wrestle.

After some wary banter, Owen tells Fran she reminds him of his ex- fiancee, “smart, one-inch from terrific, but gloomy.” He asks her out. Fran informs him she’s going out of town, but agrees to meet for dinner upon returning. Of course their burgeoning romance doesn’t run smooth, mainly because Fran’s baggage is oversize.

Battling a terminal illness, Trish (Marika Mashburn), right, urges her sister Fran (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) to get on with her life in Northlight Theatre's “Brooklyn Laundry.” Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

Her older sister Trish (Marika Mashburn, eloquent and understated), a 48-year-old mother of two, is dying. Abandoned by her drug addict husband and living in a trailer in rural Pennsylvania, Trish urges Fran to get on with her life.

“Don’t drag your feet,” she says.

Susie (Sandra Delgado), right, shares news that could upend Fran's (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) budding relationship in John Patrick Shanley's “Brooklyn Laundry” at Northlight Theatre. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

Fran takes her advice. And after having dinner with Owen, when they both get high on mushrooms, she seems poised to pursue a romance with him. That is until another sister, Susie (Sandra Delgado, a picture of unapologetic strength) makes an announcement that upends Fran’s plans.

Besides embracing familiar tropes and pop psychology platitudes, “Brooklyn Laundry” flirts with melodrama. The good news is BJ Jones’ assured, straightforward direction keeps sentiment in check.

Strong acting powers Northlight’s production. Mashburn and Delgado make the most of their limited stage time in a production dominated by Slaughter-Mason and Montgomery.

Owen (Mark Montgomery) and Fran (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) tentatively begin a relationship in “Brooklyn Laundry,” running through May 12 at Northlight Theatre. Courtesy of Michael Brosilow

Prickly and defensive, vulnerable and anxious, Slaughter-Mason is unsentimental and entirely relatable as a woman who refuses to postpone her life to fulfill obligations imposed by her family.

The intense, deliberate Montgomery (a classic Chicago everyman) is equally authentic as the gruff but sociable Owen who, like Fran, wants to drop his baggage, enjoy life and be happy.

• • •

Location: Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, (847) 673-6300,

Showtimes: 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 2:30 p.m. Sunday through May 12

Tickets: $49-$89

Running time: About 80 minutes, no intermission

Parking: Free in the adjacent lot

Rating: For adults, includes sexual subject matter

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