Unless you’ve lived them, chances are the disruptive travails of new motherhood charted in Molly Smith Metzler's “Cry It Out” will come as a shock — and an unexpectedly sobering rebuttal to the platitude that women can “have it all.”
The play’s title references the sleep training method of withholding nighttime comfort from wailing infants in order to promote self-reliance. In Echo Theater Company’s West Coast premiere of Metzler's drama, however, the most plaintive wails come from the new moms as they grapple with biological, marital and social upheavals that weren’t part of their romanticized preconceptions of parenthood.
Set in a Long Island melting pot community of urban professionals, working poor and one percenters, Metzler’s play traces the friendship between two housebound neighbors serving maternity-leave sentences. Jessie (Jackie Chung), a corporate lawyer who’s traded in power suits for yoga pants, finds her natural preference for order and perfectionism stymied by child-rearing chaos and postpartum anxiety; vivacious, unsophisticated nurse Lina (Megan Ketch) faces more basic economic and domestic challenges forcing her to live with her alcoholic mother-in-law.
Sleep deprived and held captive to their baby-monitoring phone apps, Jessie and Lina bond over coffee breaks on their shared lawn, comparing notes on surviving the early weeks of parenthood with limited assistance or understanding from their unseen husbands.
Their spirited camaraderie prompts an intrusion from Mitchell (Brian Henderson), 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 (Emily Swallow), a top-name jewelry designer who seems to be neglecting a newborn.
The dynamic between the characters opens the door to a host of real-world issues, including the physical toll of breastfeeding and options for juggling careers and parenting. Looming over everything is an implicit cultural expectation that treats child rearing as an auxiliary task with not much of a social safety net.
Under Lindsay Allbaugh’s well-paced direction, these problems are articulately examined from the characters’ varied socioeconomic perspectives. The seasoned cast brings clarity, conviction and abundant humor to these sharply differentiated roles.
As a window into the challenges facing mothers, “Cry It Out” offers in-depth insights and raises 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.
Dramatically, all these characters remain inflexibly true to type. They don’t surprise us; their choices are predictable based on their personalities and circumstances. Although this may further a social critique about moms’ limited options, it also makes them less interesting.
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‘Cry It Out’
Where: Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays; ends Aug. 19.
Tickets: $34 (Mondays are pay what you can)
Info: (310) 307-3753 or www.echotheatercompany.com