The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Laundromat takes place at three o’clock in the morning in the dreary, familiar setting of its title. The houselights come up to the song “Stand By Your Man” on the radio, and the play opens with the sound of the disc jockey’s voice signing off for the night. Alberta, a carefully dressed, rather meticulous middle-aged woman, enters with her laundry. Noticing that the attendant is asleep, she turns off the radio static and tacks a notice on the bulletin board before beginning her wash. Almost immediately, a younger woman enters, tripping over a wastebasket and scattering her bundle of clothes on the floor. The conversation that results from this casual encounter between two women, both doing their laundry in the middle of the night, provides the basis for the sketch.

Deedee, the more talkative and energetic of the two, initiates the dialogue by noting that she has already picked clothes off the floor once tonight for her husband, Joe, who “thinks hangers are for when you lock your keys in your car.” From the beginning of the play, Deedee’s joking banter and perky demeanor only thinly disguise her troubled emotions. Although she is aloof at first, Alberta’s good manners force her to respond; however, Deedee is not the kind of person to take a hint. In the extended dialogue that follows, Alberta learns more about Deedee’s life and marriage than she probably cares to know. Deedee’s husband, Joe, supposedly works a double shift at the Ford plant, they live above the Old Mexico Taco Tavern visible through the window of the Laundromat, and she usually washes their clothes at her mother’s house. Deedee wants to have children, but her life centers on Joe: On Saturdays, she watches him drag race his 1964 Chevy, and on Sundays she helps him work on it; with him, she looks forward to “winnin’ a big race. . . .”

Although she loves her husband and admires his mechanical abilities, Deedee’s dissatisfaction with their marriage is also evident. She is angry at being left alone but panicked at the thought of losing Joe; her attempts to make light of her...

(The entire section is 862 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Laundromat carefully adheres to the unities of time, place and action, and Marsha Norman maintains the illusion of reality in a variety of ways. An onstage clock is set to the time of the action and runs throughout the play, the conversation between the two women punctuated by the business of sorting, washing, drying, and folding clothes. The rhythm and routine of domestic work not only helps structure the dialogue but provides a ready-made social connection between the women. Moreover, a laundromat is one of the few public places women might be found in the middle of the night, and the chore that draws them there is as boring, repetitive, and unsatisfying as the rest of their lives.

The set, too, is both realistic and potentially emblematic. As Norman describes it, the laundromat is a “standard, dreary” one that might be found anywhere: Its “dirty ashtrays” and “ugly chairs littered with magazines” pay tribute to the meaningless waiting endured by earlier customers. Despite such depressing surroundings, however, the Laundromat provides these women a well-lit haven in the night—a place to escape, if only temporarily, the darker reality of their own solitary existence. It is important to note that the play begins with the song “Stand By Your Man” and the voice of a late-night radio disc jockey signing off for the night: “And the rest of you night owls gonna have to make it through the rest of this night by yourself, or with...

(The entire section is 457 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Brown, Linda Gitner. Marsha Norman: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1996.

Gross, Amy. “Marsha Norman.” Vogue, June, 1983, 104.

Spencer, Jenny S. “Marsha Norman’s She-Tragedies.” In Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women’s Theatre, edited by Lynda Hart. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.

Stout, Kate. “Marsha Norman: Writing for the Least of Our Brethren.” Saturday Review 9 (September/October, 1983): 28-33.