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The Play Goer: Ever Seen a Play in a Laundromat?

The Accident Bear would be your chance

photo by Teresa Castracane © / Conceived, written and performed at the Avenue Laundromat on Maryland Avenue, The Accident Bear stars Paul Diem as Bear and Rachel Manteuffel as Chance.

       Bob Bartlett teaches playwriting, screenwriting, dramatic literature and theater theory at Bowie State University. He’s also deeply involved in the theater world in and around the Washington, D.C., area and beyond.

         A few years back, Bartlett lived in historic Annapolis and found himself every Thursday lugging laundry up Maryland Avenue to the Avenue Laundromat. He’d sit near the front window and read and write while the washer churned.

         Combine a playwright and a laundromat and what happens?

         Fast forward to last Friday night when what happened was the premiere of The Accident Bear, a play not only written at the laundromat but also set and performed there. That’s right. An audience of 12 sits at the front of the laundromat watching three actors become Bear, the accident-prone owner/operator of a laundromat; Chance, a young woman living in her car who appears and reappears in repeating scenes, each with a twist that advances the plot; and Buddy, Bear’s friend whose wife is expecting and who tries to help Bear “chillax” to overcome his accidents.

         Bartlett’s play is a comic, quirky and heartfelt paean to quirky, comic, yet ultimately heartwarming, people. It is so involving, and so well-acted, that the trappings of the laundromat — the rows of washers and dryers, the old candy machine, the faded signs — soon become part of the story itself, putting the audience front and center emotionally as well as physically. Director Jay Brock does well at making the setting work and at working with his actors to bring this gem to life.

         As Bear, Paul Diem’s performance is measured and cautious, like Bear himself. After all, he averages one accident a month and spends most of his time attempting to avoid that unavoidable fate. Diem capably anchors Bear in a self-aware and guarded persona, yet also provides flashes of vulnerability. The initial patter between Bear and Chance, wonderfully realized by Rachel Manteuffel, is like watching a modern-day version of Hepburn and Tracy. They set a comedic pace that later melts into mystery and ultimately provides quite an emotional punch, as the two fine actors animate their characters with an emotional dance of curiosity and regret.

         As Buddy, Louis E. Davis starts off in fine comedic form and graduates to a heartfelt friend, helping Bear work past the 42-day mark without an accident as well as understanding why the accidents seem to be happening.

         All three actors are just terrific, and after an initial jolt of comedy from each, we very quickly come to care about them as they all immerse themselves into their characters, with no theatrical lights or stage set to hide behind. Just a laundromat, fluorescent lights and a dozen people hanging on to every word, facial expression and inflection.

         It’s a wonderful evening of theater. That’s the good news.

         The bad news is that word has gotten around and the four-week run is sold out. Here’s a recommendation: check Bartlett’s website at www.bob-bartlett.com or email [email protected] and see if there’s a waiting list in case a seat opens up. If not, keep an eye out for The Accident Bear to appear elsewhere. Based on what’s happening in the Avenue Laundromat, this original show is bound to grace other stages.

       About 90 minutes with no intermission; thru Dec. 22: $25.