Critical Context

With its suggestion of what it really means for women to “get out,” The Laundromat develops the central image of Marsha Norman’s first play, Getting Out (pr. 1977, pb. 1979), but in a more lighthearted, comic vein. Like Arlene, who finds her release from prison in Getting Out is to another kind of cell with a different set of limited options, the women in The Laundromat find that simply getting on with life is a difficult, sometimes overwhelming task. In Norman’s later play, ’night, Mother (pr. 1982, pb. 1983), Jessie does not even try: Suicide presents for her the most appropriate alternative to a meaningless, repetitive existence. With its mother-daughter dynamic, naturalistic style, and central focus on women, The Laundromat clearly looks forward to ’night, Mother, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning status represented for many a major breakthrough for women’s theater. Unlike those of many of her British contemporaries, however, Norman’s plays are neither feminist nor directly political in nature. For some, Norman’s use of traditional forms and conventional themes represented a betrayal of the more politicized community of American women playwrights and helped account for her swift critical and box office success.

That the emotions and concerns Norman explores in her plays are not limited to women is made clear in The Laundromat’s one-act companion piece The Pool...

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