‘Cry It Out’ hits the angst of new motherhood on the head
DETROIT, Mich.–Sometimes a play comes along that mistakenly gets labeled a “woman’s play.” I’m not wild about that description. For one thing, just because a play is about what is a woman’s experience does not mean that men shouldn’t see it, or won’t benefit from seeing it.
Such is the case with The Detroit Public Theatre’s current production of Cry It Out, a play by Molly Smith Metzler, about the plight, angst, humor, pressure, depression, pain and community that is felt by and among women who have just given birth.
Jessie (Breayre Tender)is an African American lawyer with a new baby. Her small house in the suburbs of New York City backs up against another house inhabited by Lina (Dani Cochrane) who has also had a new baby. But while Jessie is prosperous and lives with her successful husband, Lina is living and financially struggling in the house of her alcoholic mother-in-law with her husband and baby. But the women, despite their differences in race and economic strata bond and become close.
Both women are very devoted to raising their kids right, but both also lament the things that they have given up, and their plight daytime housebound prisoners, incarcerated by their napping, nursing, crying newborns. There is insider stuff written by Metzler for Lina and Jessie, like one especially revelatory and hilarious rant by Jessie about her husband’s temerity to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work to pick up a few things. The truth: that he screwed up royally by not coming home directly and deprived her of a chance to get the hell out of the house by herself, if only to the store for an hour to get groceries of her choosing. Lina is so addled at times by caring for her baby and doging her husband’s mother that she gives the UPS man an unexpected surprise I won’t spoil.
Tender plays Jessie extremely well, delivering on the internal conflict Metzler has deftly written about the war inside her soul about going back to work versus being a stay-at-home Mom. Cochrane has a way of playing “tough broads’ with great pathos, so we are sure to laugh with her one moment and choke up over her the next, and she brings this quality to Lina. Her take-me-how-I-am manner even leads her to tell her African-American pal about the snooty status some women seek by having a white nanny. It’s a little cringe-worthy, but it totally works in Metzler’s script, which allows Jessie to breathe it in without stopping the story or the friendship.
Inserted into the mommy club is an unlikely player in the form of Mitchell (Bryan Lark) who shows up somewhat creepily to ask the gals if his dysfunctional wife and new Mom can join their daily coffee clutches, which he has observed with a long lens from the house on the hill above them. As stalkery as it seems at first, Lark makes us feel sorry for him and his wife, Adrienne (Sarah Winkler). While Adrienne appears to be just a new Mommy bitch on steroids, we soon find out that she is not what she appears, and not really the woman she reveals herself to be to the ladies. There’s more going on, and Winkler does an excellent job of layering her character so we don’t write her off as a stereotype when we first meet her.
Director Courtney Burkett has done well to bring this production together. Choosing the Metzler play was her first good decision, as the writing is crisp, without any wasted minutes or diversions. Kudos to scenic and prop designer Pegi Marshall who created a terrific and realistic set of the two houses butting up to one another’s tiny lots, grass on stage, etc. Every detail was executed with tight, even lines. The construction was especially good (worth pointing out given some recent shows in Michigan I have seen where the sets appeared to be built by Middle-School students). Costumes by Katherine Nelson are dead on for these folks, but I’m dying to know why Cochrane’s Lina starts the play with red extended fingernails and then finishes the no-intermission show without them.
Cry It Out is a play with a message, and one entertainingly delivered, about how we treat women, and especially Mothers. But don’t get the idea this is a women’s play. The more men that take it in, the better chance we’ll have of being a village to support Motherhood without exacting a penalty on the women who choose the role.