“Theater has always been something that is important in my life, and I never want to lose it,” Cecily Strong says as she looks ahead to the opening of John Patrick Shanley’s Brooklyn Laundry, a production that marks her return to the New York stage since a successful run in 2021’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life. Now in previews at Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center Stage I, Brooklyn Laundry centers on three sisters (played by Strong, Andrea Syglowski, and Florencia Lozano), the man (David Zayas) who runs their local Brooklyn laundromat, and the funny and tragic tricks life can play on people.
Theatricality is old hat for Emmy-nominated Strong, who is best known for her 10 years on Saturday Night Live and the theater-inspired Apple TV+ series Schmigadoon! She recently spoke with TheaterMania about her new role and the surprising similarities it has to her own life.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Most people know you from your work on SNL, but you actually have a BFA in theater. What does it mean for you to be returning to your stage roots with Brooklyn Laundry?
It’s huge! It makes my life so much better to get to do this. I didn’t get to do theater for a long time because I was doing SNL and Schmigadoon!, so getting to do it again feels very good. To do it now with John Patrick Shanley, who we study in theater school, is the thing that has made all of my theater school friends the most jealous and excited.
How would you describe Brooklyn Laundry?
It’s a play about people with responsibilities in very real circumstances, and [the feeling] that these circumstances might take away opportunities. But life gives you what it gives you, and there’s nothing you can do about that. John Patrick gives us this opportunity to see that this doesn’t have to defeat you. There is a way that magic and love stories can come from tough circumstances. I need a story like that right now. It feels good to do it.
What do you most enjoy about your character, Fran?
She’s so sweet, real, and genuine. She’s gloomy because she’s not happy with where her life is, but she doesn’t blame anyone else. I can understand feeling like it’s my own fault, even though circumstances are a certain way. It’s easy to be defeated, but Fran’s still trying. As snarky as she is, she’s always going to come back to being a good person.
Your career has shown so much variety. How do your experiences lend themselves to playing Fran?
The thing that is probably the most similar about me and Fran is that my career has maybe not gone how I imagined I wanted it to. I thought, “If you do this, then that leads to this…” Then, all of a sudden, Covid hit. I wrote a book about going through loss. Somehow during Covid, Schmigadoon! came about. Opportunities opened up for me even in the face of things that were very hard. I think for Fran, that’s her journey as well.
John Patrick Shanley knows how to write for New York and New Yorkers. You’re from Chicago, but one could argue you’re an honorary New Yorker. How did you feel about his approach to Brooklyn Laundry?
I love it. I grew up in a neighborhood that’s a mix of blue collar and white collar. I feel like I knew these people growing up. Boy, does he have a handle on such specific, real people! It reminds me of a lot of people I’ve come in contact with in New York. I’m excited for my fiancé’s family in New Jersey to see this, and all the guys his dad works with. It’s for them and about them—real people.
What are you taking from your critically acclaimed work with your last off-Broadway play, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life, that is informing your performance in Brooklyn Laundry?
They’re so vastly different, but there’s been a couple of these delightful, surprising, funny observations that I feel like [playwrights] Jane Wagner and John Patrick Shanley have in common. Both writers start sentences and you don’t know where they’re going, but they end in laughs that might take you 10 seconds. Life was full of those, and I think there’s a lot of them in Laundry too.
Have you considered adapting your memoir, This Will All Be Over Soon, into a one woman show?
I’ve certainly thought about it but it scares me. I’ve never been a playwright and fortunately and unfortunately I’ve now gotten to work with two of the best. Why would I even want to attempt it? It would be very special if I knew the right way to do it. My cousin Owen passed away from brain cancer glioblastoma in 2020, and then Brooklyn Laundry came along. The male lead in the show is named Owen, and the characters deal with glioblastoma! Life was like, “Do this. This is what we’re giving you.” What are the chances? That’s how I would like the next opportunity to happen.
Do you see yourself potentially taking on a Broadway show? How would you like to see that happen?
No idea. I think the lesson I’ve learned is that I don’t know what to expect, and any time I set something up, I find that it’s just a chance for me to be disappointed. I’d rather continue to be surprised and get an email one day that says, “Would you do John Patrick Shanley’s world premiere play?” I would love to be so lucky to have surprises like that. If that’s the way my career goes, I’ll feel like I did something right to get the opportunities.