Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Exploring the Rugged Terrain of a New Parent
In Jesse’s post-baby new world, a trip to the grocery store is big excitement, and woe unto the well-meaning husband who deprives her of that singular escape by doing the shopping on his way home from work.
Chance Theater’s Orange County Premiere of Molly Smith Metzler’s “Cry It Out,” now performing through May 1st, is not the “feel-good,” “Isn’t-Motherhood-Sweet” play you might think you should go see with your mom this weekend. It is, however, probably the play about mothers she actually wants to see.
The entire story takes place in the Long Island backyard of Jessie's (Aubrey Saverino; Netflix: Adam Sandler’s “The Week Of”) duplex. A sophisticated, compassionate Manhattan attorney, Jessie is on maternity leave and finds out that her spitfire, rough-around-the-edges neighbor, Lina (Resident Artist Amanda Zarr; Dir: “She Kills Monsters”), is in the same boat. Conversation-starved, she takes the necessary risk by asking the woman to coffee. Of course, they are confined to the “sweet spot” in the yard where their respective baby monitors will reach, but that does not stop them from striking up a powerful friendship.
Their backgrounds and financial situations are different, with Jesse a quiet-spoken, highly educated professional, married into a family that highly regards seaside summer cottages, and Lina, an exuberant, friendly, foul-mouthed new mother who will shortly be returning to her work in a hospital.
They bond over breastfeeding, isolation, overbearing in-laws, daycare and the sanctity of a trip to the neighborhood Stop and Save, while comparing notes on surviving the early weeks of parenthood with limited assistance or understanding from their unseen husbands.
Jesse, however, is not interested in returning to her well-known Manhattan firm where she is supposed to become a partner. But she hasn’t yet told her husband who has a rather low-paying job, and she's worried about potentially paying the bills on a limited income.
Their spirited camaraderie prompts an intrusion from Mitchell (Seyto James; “They Could Give No Name”), an affluent, socially maladroit entrepreneur who’s been watching them from his estate on the cliffs above their street. “We look down on you,” he explains with intentional topographical accuracy and unintended elitist entitlement. Nevertheless, his motives are benign: He’d like them to socialize with his wife, Adrienne (Angel Dumapias; “A Chorus Line”), a top-name jewelry designer who seems to be neglecting her newborn.
Adrienne’s meeting with them, however, doesn’t go well because she is witheringly contemptuous and resents her husband’s interference. She’s also distracted by her iPad the whole time and doesn’t even appear at all interested in nursing or child rearing. But upon learning her name, the two women recognize and admire her famous high-end jewelry. She leaves when Jesse has to go to her baby, who accidentally keeps Adrienne’s iPad. When a sympathetically fretful but comically panicked Mitchell comes back to pick it up later, he asks Jesse to call his wife and invite her back. He’s worried about his wife’s mental well-being since giving birth, and he realizes she’s also very he’s lonely. She needs friends.
Metzler doesn’t hold back depicting the blatant inequities of a system where some new parents can stay home indefinitely with babies and others face penury if they don’t get back to work the day they check out of the hospital. But “Cry It Out” is about more than the socio-economics or the gender politics of maternity/paternity leave.
The play’s title references the sleep training method of withholding nighttime comfort from wailing infants in order to promote self-reliance. Molly Smith Metzler wrote the engaging (and bitterly relatable) play on a commission from Actors’ Theatre of Louisville after the success of her “Elemeno Pea” in 2011.
When “Cry It Out” premiered at ACT’s Humana Festival in 2017, Metzler’s keen character craft made it a crowd favorite. In 2018, Metzler, a Juilliard School graduate, won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Playwrighting and the ATCA/Steinberg New Play Citation. Her current Netflix drama series, “Maid,” has become a fan-favorite, and recently agreed to a multi-year overall deal with Netflix where she will develop and produce additional new series and other projects down the road.
Elina de Santos’ direction rings with wit and emotional intellect in the show, and finds a full spectrum of truth in each character of this female-centric cast. It’s the grip of honesty that keeps Jessie and Lina returning to their backyard with a gravity-like pull.
Ms. Zarr’s brash, South Shore personality as Lina runs hilariously roughshod over Ms. Saverino’s hospitable but slightly awkward Jessie, a woman who doesn’t “curse in real life.” Both stand in stark contrast with their posh, cliffside neighbors, Adrienne and Mitchell. And both are on the receiving end of a cruel, exasperating, formidable blow in the latter half of the play.
Amazingly, in only a short 90 minutes, Director de Santos creates a vivid, specific portrayal of the joys and hair-tearing, mind-numbing agonies – mental, physical and financial – that these three new mothers face. It’s a story of love, but it’s also about anger, stress, unfairness, loss and the ravages of breastfeeding.
Metzler’s play, however, has four sides to it, not three. Fourth is Mitchell as a stay-at-home dad. Unhappy with his own childhood experience, and not understanding of his wife’s attitudes, he decides to take a six-month paternity leave from the company he owns, to take care of their new child, while still drawing a full salary, paying for a full-time nanny, cook and family assistant, and while living in his hilltop mansion near the ocean.
With each well-crafted scene, Director de Santos reveals new layers to her characters, offering in-depth insights and raising issues that ring true.
Amid the polemics, however, the babies themselves seem to get lost in the laundry list. For all their professed concern, the moms seem more focused on their sacrifices to their “little larvae” captors. Ironically, the most emotionally authentic exchange with one of the swaddled infants comes from Mitchell.
“Cry it Out” is a double-edged sword of motherhood, making it an actor's dream, and allowing role-defining moments by a truly professional ensemble. The snappy, comedic play’s plot twists are well-telegraphed from the beginning, but still manages to keep the audience guessing. And those unpredictable turns are some of the best ways Metzler upends the most common assumptions and cliches about parenthood, and the incredible effects it has on social and economic class structure in modern-day America.
WITH: AUBREY SAVERINO, AMANDA ZARR, ANGEL DUMAPIAS AND SEYTO JAMES.
Directed by ELINA DE SANTOS; Scenic Design by BRUCE GOODRICH; Lighting Design by SARAH SCHWARTZ; Costume Design by ADRIANA LAMBARRI; Sound Design by MARC ANTONIO PRITCHETT; Stage Management by BEBE HERRERA; Executive Producer is ELIZABETH JONES; Associate Producers are RACHELLE MENAKER & EDDIE SCHULLER; Season Producers are BETTE & WYLIE AITKEN; Associate Producers are THE FAMILY OF MARY KAY FYDA-MAR
CHANCE THEATER @ BETTE AITKEN THEATER ARTS CENTER PRESENTS "Cry It Out," April 1st - May 1st, on the Cripe Stage; Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 3PM and 8PM, Sundays at 3PM. For tickets and additional information, call (888) 455-4212 or visit: https://chancetheater.com/
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Camryn Long