Story: Ruby has decided to live her life by experimenting with polyphasic sleep, a term coined by early 20th century psychologist J.S. Szymanski. Instead of sleeping eight hours straight, otherwise known as monophasic sleep, she is determined to sleep just 20 minutes at a time, six times per day.
She figures that the dryer cycle at her local laundromat will be perfect for her naps, waking her up when the cycle is completed and leaving her totally refreshed and with an extra six hours each day of waking time.
Well, not exactly. First off, apparently those dryers are taking a bit longer than 20 minutes to complete a cycle. That in turn is wreaking havoc with Ruby’s equilibrium, to the point that she notes, “recently it has been hard to distinguish reality from not reality.”
So, what can we expect when she observes a woman who proclaims she’s from a Christian help center demanding that a young man she brings to the laundromat shed most of his clothes so that she can wash and dry them, something she considers crucial for anyone’s well-being? Or what about later, when that same woman appears to be the mentally-challenged older sister of that same young man, who now seems to be the one in control of their destinies?
And what about Lenny, a menacing young woman who professed her love for Ruby while they were in high school, or so says Ruby, who rejected that overture? How in the heck has Lenny happened to show up at that exact laundromat so many years later and apparently still in love with Ruby? What’s the story here?
Highlights: Leave it to OnSite Theatre, which specializes in site-specific performances, to present an original play in a functioning laundromat. Thus, most of those people you see doing their laundry are, in actuality, doing their laundry. Audience members are invited to grab a seat, even perching atop unused washers and dryers, to check out the performances of an intrepid cast directed with cleverness and flair by Edward Coffield.
This one-act, one-hour drama, written by St. Louis native Elizabeth Birkenmeier, is a whimsical, beguiling romp that will challenge you to figure out exactly who is real and who is a fanciful flight of sleep-deprived Ruby’s fevered imagination.
Other Info: Director Coffield and stage manager Adam Hunn ingeniously utilize the narrow aisles of Classic Coin Laundry to effect the movements of their dedicated cast. Rachel Hanks as the mysterious Lenny even lurks outside for a while, peering mischievously through the establishment’s front window to spy on the fuzzy-thinking Ruby.
Birkenmeier additionally enlists the aid of her brother, Robert, who provides continual, soft jazz-style musical accompaniment to embellish Ruby’s ramblings as a kind of omniscient troubadour.
Coffield coaxes some delightful performances from the quartet of players, including Amanda Swearingen, whose Ruby is somewhere between catatonic and catastrophic in her dealings with life. Ruby’s not much for direct participation, but then again getting by on two hours’ sleep per day might be a reason for her stupefied state.
Michelle Hand marvelously evinces a pair of roles. She’s demanding and disturbingly confused as a busybody matron named Iva who believes order must rule supreme in her universe and with anyone who comes into contact with her. She’s also affecting as a panic-stricken, mentally-challenged woman who collapses on the floor and hides behind her purse to escape the confusing constraints of her care-giver brother.
Antonio Rodriguez shows his own versatility as the easy-going young man who acquiesces to Iva’s dictatorial demands and also as the exasperated younger brother. As Lenny, Hanks aggressively moves along the perimeter of Ruby’s confused feelings as she furtively makes a play for her former classmate’s affections.
Or does she? It’s all very murky stuff, with myriad references to a fateful day at a Michigan beach many years before that pop up repeatedly in Ruby’s fractured memories. And the omnipresent music, nicely played by guitarist Robert Birkenmeier, can range from pleasant to innocuous to annoying, with no discernible reason for its inclusion.
There’s a Gun in Your Goodbye Bag is confusing, confounding and also compelling. It’s a clever little play that will keep you guessing along with its hallucinating heroine, while the laundromat’s regular customers imperviously go about their routines.
Play: There’s a Gun in Your Goodbye Bag
Company: OnSite Theatre Company
Venue: Classic Coin Laundry, 7200 Balson Avenue
Dates: June 21, 22, 28, 29
Tickets: $20; contact 686-0062 or OnSiteTheatre.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Kristen Edler