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Third and Oak: The Laundromat, which opened last night in the High Rise East Rathskellar, presents a substantial slice of life, full of comedic flavor and a sharp view of the world that may take a long time for some viewers to digest. The Laundromat is a ships-passing-in-the-night story of two women who come to a seedy laundromat at 3 a.m. to escape the realities of their lives. One is Alberta -- played by College junior Elana Weinstein -- a studious, reserved, middle-aged woman obviously far from home, and the other is Deedee -- portrayed by first-year graduate student Wendy Braund -- a young housewife who literally stumbles in from her apartment across the alley. As Deedee's almost compulsive talking battles Alberta's reserve, the characters drop hints about their troubled lives to each other and to the audience. While the unfolding stories are somewhat predictable, the show creates suspense by drawing the audience into the characters' developing relationship. Both characters could be reduced to stereotypes, but the actresses' talent gives them depth and sympathy. Weinstein makes the most of Alberta's comic potential. With her hair drawn tightly into a bun and a dainty string of pearls peeking over the collar of her turtleneck, she could be the ultimate sour-faced spinster. Instead, her wry expressions and high-brow jokes give the play much of its humor. Braund's rapidly changing facial expressions convey emotions that her rough-edged, uneducated character could not express in words. As the two women grow closer through their confidences, they develop a mother-daughter relationship, and one almost expects them to hug, or at least to make some sort of physical contact before the show ends. But that sort of behavior is more suitable for a sudsy television drama than for Marsha Norman's ruthlessly realistic script. The author resists the temptation to give pat solutions for the women's problems, leaving several unresolved chords that contribute to the play's believability. The production was directed by 1990 College graduate Katie Goodman under the aegis of the Women's Theatre Festival. Goodman said that the festival, which will take place in February, has attracted widespread attention on campus, drawing 45 student volunteers this semester. Third and Oak: The Laundromat runs through Saturday at 8 p.m. in the High Rise East Rathskellar. Tickets are $3.50, or $3 with a donation of a piece of winter clothing for the University City Hospitality Coalition.

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