While mothers have appeared on the stage at least since the Greeks, just-become-mothers are an absolute rarity. With her play “Cry It Out,” Molly Smith Metzler remedies this situation with abundant laughter and some tears.
Juggling time nursing and caring for their infants with the few precious moments away, new mothers Jessie and Lina meet in the backyard between their duplexes on the north shore of Long Island (Port Washington.) All that’s available to sit on their first time out is a brand-new play set, yet to be put to use. Each carries a video baby monitor, and the space they alight upon, like two refugees from a storm, is the square footage from which both monitors can pick up the signal of their (hopefully) napping child.
Jessie is from Chicago, originally, married into a moderately wealthy Long Island clan, on leave from her law firm, where she is in line for a partnership. Lina is LI bred, but South Shore, on maternity leave from a job at the local hospital, sharing space with the boyfriend and his mother.
Despite or because of their class differences, they click on this mom date. Lina’s no-nonsense attitude gives Jessie permission to unload. For instance, she’s worried whether she should let her infant “cry it out,” in the crib. To which Lina responds, “I’m sorry but that’s what sleep training is: it’s barbaric. You put your baby down in a dark crib and let them scream and scream until they learn no one’s coming for them? I mean, are we Vikings?”
The flowering friendship is exuberantly funny, riffing on nursing and sleeplessness and the simultaneously joyful and constraining role of ‘motherhood.’ Lena has to return to work by month’s end, Jessie, who had an emergency C-section, is considering giving up work to stay full-time with her child, but is reluctant to tell hubby.
Another Lena-ism: “This is our rodeo. The vaginas are in charge now, and we vaginas know what to do.”
But playwright Metzler is interested in parenthood for both genders, and part-way through, Mitchell drops into the yard—a new father who runs an investment firm, anxious that his haute fashion jewelry designer wife Adrienne seems not to dote on their newborn. Soon a reluctant Adrienne huffs her way through a coffee clutch.
To a certain generation, Jessie and Lena, midwestern politeness and urban tell it like it is, has the flavor of one of the great sit-com duos, Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern. I mean this as praise and also as the limitation of the script. The inclusion of super-rich Mitchell and Adrienne tries to hit yet another level of class, put a gender twist on nurturing and introduce two slightly eccentric characters. The Lina-Jessie friendship is short-circuited as the play grows plot heavy.
Director M. Bevin O’Gara’s production is warm, generous, funny, felt and at crucial moments very vulnerable. Mikaela Izquierdo finds a questing note that anchors her Jessie, a woman facing new choices in a life that seemed secure and set. Izquierdo has a receptivity in her stage work that draws one in. Melissa Miller is a hoot in the showier role of Lina, leaning into the sharp language but also coming to abrupt shifts that reveal the pain and fear of just making things work out.
Erica Steinhagen is deliciously cool in her first scene, carrying herself an elegant froideur, absolutely alien to the idea of a mommies group. She doesn’t quite reach the rage of her second entrance, a bravura monologue that reveals a very different woman.
Brian Sgambati plays the bumbling Mitchell with a halting, goofy warmth that negotiates the odd turns of this character with grace.
Great design work as usual from scenic designer Daniel Zimmerman, lighting designer Tyler M. Perry, costumer Sarafina Bush and sound designer Lesley Lisa Greene.
Kitchen Theatre Company,
Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler; through February 22