Review: Cry It Out by Theatre en Bloc
by Brian Paul Scipione
“We're connected, as women. It's like a spiderweb. If one part of that web vibrates, if there's trouble, we all know it, but most of the time we're just too scared, or selfish, or insecure to help. But if we don't help each other, who will?”
-Sarah Addison Allen
When one is trying to capture the spirit of a play in a review it is convenient to look for a salient moment in the plot that connects it to the production’s over-all theme or themes. With Molly Smith Metzler’s new play Cry It Out there is an almost devasting array of potential moments to choose from. Her three main characters, all woman with recently new-born children, are struggling with the tribulations of wanting to have a career and needing to say at home -- or is it wanting to stay at home and needing to have a career?
Metzler, an award-winning playwright, television writer and producer, is a master of dealing with the social intricacies of financial class dynamics, family drama and feminist issues. In Cry It Out she brilliantly achieves a work of dramatic cohesion and concision by contrasting three mothers who solidly represent three different economic echelons. So, choosing a moment that sums up the play is challenging in that no one moment incorporates all three characters (easily four, if we incorporate the father-come-lately who attempts to sublimate his wife’s role).
The foremost theme is the titular expression: cry it out. A quick Google search reveals articles both for and against this method of sleep training. It's meant to do the baby the service of letting the child learn how to fall asleep on its own, by not intervening at the first sound of crying. Psychology Today published an article in 2011 entitled “Dangers of Crying It Out.” Also, in 2011 the Huffington Post published an article under the more inflammatory title, “Cry It Out: The Method That Kills Baby Brain Cells.” CNN stated in 2016, “It's OK to let your baby cry himself to sleep, study finds.” Most recently in 2018, www.whattoexpect.com published “Crying It Out and Sleep Training: What Parents Need to Know.”
Suggesting that the debate is continuing and controversial, in Metzler’s play, Jesse (played by Jenny Lavery) casually asks Lina (Lee Eddy), a neighbor she has recently met, if she is trying that method of sleep training. Lina quickly dismisses it. “I don’t hate babies.”
This dichotomy, if it is one, is quickly swept under the rug, because what is at stake here is not the manner of raising children but the fact that that they are in this together. They're both in the spider web and though their backgrounds and fledgling parental philosophies may be be only tenuously connected, their newfound bond as nascent mothers is not. Later, when they meet the third mother, Adrienne (Kristin Sawyer Davis), they are stunned to find that she does not seem to share their maternal devotion, nor can she summon up the basic social niceties to be polite to them. Adrienne is a famous jeweler with a nanny and a husband, Mitchell (J. Ben Wolfe), who's obsessed with the fact that she does not fulfill the matriarchal archetype as he imagines it. They go to therapy twice a week, and he seeks allies in Jesse and Lina.
The characters seem simply summed up: the mother forced to work and terrified to be away from her new-born; the mother who doesn’t want to work and stay with her child; and the mother who wants to do nothing but work. But of course, like life, it is simply not that simple. The play moves along at a brisk pace, relying heavier on the comedic rather then the dramatic moments as much more is revealed about the inner lives of all four characters. Set in the front lawns between the character’s homes (cleverly defined by the range of their baby monitors) the play is fittingly produced as theatre in the round at Zach Theatre’s Whisenhunt’s Stage. It's sparsely furnished, so the audience’s focus is captured wholly by the actors' performances.
Lee Eddy absolutely shines as Lina, with an authentic Long Island accent that is both un-nerving and hilarious. Her costume does not change but her demeanor evolves throughout the action as she gets closer and closer to the end of her maternity leave. Lina’s brash self-confidence is betrayed by the increasingly frantic physical mannerisms. Her extroverted charisma is slowly overwhelmed by the inevitable pathos of her social position, which is not to say her inner strength ever flags.
Wolfe as Mitchell makes the most of every moment he is on stage. He plays his affable character’s confusion with a crisp authenticity making him both charming but easy to pity. Lavery’s Jesse is a blend of beatific and feisty without ever straying from an overwhelming kindness. She's the mother of the 1950’s television world, shocking everyone in the room and herself most of allwhen she lets out a curse word.
Davis as the career woman par excellence starts her performance at a ten and then manages to crank up the intensity from there. It would be wrong to call her rage vitriolic or even self-righteous. Unfortunately the playwright does not give her character as much stage time as the others, a decision that has the potential to relegate Adrienne to stereotype status (i.e., the man-hating career woman). Davis manages to overcome this disadvantage by imbuing her performance with a tender humanity that exposes deeper feelings.
Theatre en Bloc consistently illustrates a ‘don’t back down’ ethos in all their productions, and Cry It Out is another great example of this. For those who like theatre that inspires conversation as well as entertains: this production is for you.
May 04 - May 20, 2018
1510 Toomey Road
Austin, TX, 78704
May 4 – 20, 2018
Theatre en Bloc is proud to present the regional premiere of Cry It Out, an emotional comedic play written by Molly Smith Metzler and directed by Lily Wolff. Cry It Out is presented on ZACH’s Whisenhunt Stage for a three-week run of eleven performances, beginning May 4 and ending May 20.
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