In the theater, actors are used to working on stage where all the details — lighting, sound effects, entrances — are orchestrated to the letter.
But a new production in Boston is set in a noisy, real-world place where anything can happen. Here's WBUR's Andrea Shea's spin on an authentic soap opera.
ANDREA SHEA: The play's title is 'Third and Oak: The Laundromat.' It's about two lonely women...one young and one not-so-young...who meet and share gritty secrets in a laundromat. Their names are Dee Dee and Alberta. It's three a.m.
SCENE FROM PLAY: Guess not too many people suds their duds in the middle of the night. Suds their duds. I do my stuff at mom's. I mean I take our stuff over to mom's. She's got matching Maytags.
ANDREA SHEA: The industrial washers and dryers humming and thumping in the background aren't props. They're the real thing because this production is being staged at All-Bright, an actual working laundromat in Brighton.
ANDREA SHEA: Actress Brooke Haney plays Dee Dee, the bubbly, confused 20-something in the play. Producing the one-act here was Haney's idea. She says the light bulb popped while she was doing her own wash.
BROOKE HANEY: I brought this play to a laundromat because I thought it would be kind of cool and fun and read it out loud and realized it actually times out, you can put a load of laundry in when it says so in the play and by the time the line comes, 'hey our wash is done,' it is actually time to take it out of the washer if you do your clothes on gentle cycle like I do.
ANDREA SHEA: So Haney set out to produce a site-specific version of 'The Laundromat' in Boston.
BROOKE HANEY: I probably dropped actual proposals off at 20 laundromats, probably visited about 40, and then waited.
ANDREA SHEA: But not long. Haney says the owner of All-Brite responded immediately, so she came to this very small laudromat with her whites and colors as research.
BROOKE HANEY: The space is so theatrical with the counters on the sides and the chairs, it makes for an interesting audience experience and definitely interesting challenges for the directing and the acting.
ANDREA SHEA: That's because the play will go on while the laundromat is open for business. On this day the cast is rehearsing. Boobie Steinbach is the director.
BOBBIE STEINBACH: I was excited about how a real environment affects what's going on in not-real play, if you will, how much more real that made it almost instantaneously, with people passing in front of the actresses and standing by the soap dispenser with a coke and a people magazine between the two actresses as they spoke. Exciting.
SCENE FROM PLAY: Your mother does your laundry. You don't have a washer either huh? Get your husband to fix it. Got a heap of shirts, don't he? It can't be fixed.
ANDREA SHEA: And while it's exciting to act in a place filled with real patrons, it can also be distracting, according to actress Susan Bigger. She plays Alberta in 'The Laundromat' and says that even with her thirty years of theater experience this unusual performance space keeps her on her toes.
SUSAN BIGGER: You have the noises of the washing machine, you have the noises of the dryer, you have the change machine, and you never know what's going to happen, and I can turn around and run into somebody, I can watch somebody folding a sheet in an area of the laundromat where I was hoping to do my next scene but I guess I'm not going to.
ANDREA SHEA: And, she says, the benefits of space-driven performance outweigh the pitfalls.
SUSAN BIGGER: You could create it on a stage but it could never be the same.
JOHN HISLOT: I felt like I walked across the middle of a stage in the middle of a theatrical production.
ANDREA SHEA: Patron John Hislot is waiting for his load to dry. He says he doesn't mind being an unwitting extra in a play and thinks this concept is pretty cool.
JOHN HISLOT It's sort of like installation art, you know, you're putting art into its natural setting.
ANDREA SHEA: Pulizter Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman is thrilled to hear about Brooke Haney's choice to stage her mini-drama in its natural setting. Via cell phone from New York she says she did indeed write the play to the timing of wash and dry cycles.
MARSHA NORMAN: I'm glad that she noticed because it's not in the stage directions or anywhere it was just a funny little point of pride with me that it has that truth about it.
ANDREA SHEA: Brutal truths between strangers come out in the wash at this laundromat, says Norman, and the setting brings tension and believability to the play.
MARSHA NORMAN: One of the things that make it works in the laundromat is the fact that it's just a kind of practical reality which is once you put your clothes in you're not going to leave, you know, and in a 2 character play one of the problems is, there's a craft problem, is how do you get people angry enough at each other to create a resolution without having one of them just walk out of the play? But laundromat solves that problem for you because okay their wash is in the washing machine, they have to stay there, they have to stay in the conversation.
SCENE FROM PLAY: You act like he's a saint like he's dead or something and now you worship the shirts he wore. What do I have to do to get you to leave me alone?
ANDREA SHEA: For actress and producer Brooke Haney the act of airing dramatic laundry in front of a more-or-less captive audience that came here to clean up is more than an exercise.
BROOKE HANEY: If people can see theater for the first time potentially that is worth the whole project for me because theaters all over are struggling for audiences, I mean, that's not a secret, and I just feel like this is a way to do audience development that's you know kind of guerilla but kind of great.
ANDREA SHEA: And while there's only room for about twenty audience members in the All-Brite laundromat, Haney says people who bring along their own laundry get to see the show for free.
For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.
This program aired on June 15, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.