Let’s be frank: If you’re not a parent, hearing about the highs and lows of motherhood — all that whining about exhaustion, all that ecstatic glorying in the miracle of the baby’s every gesture — is about as exciting as a low-grade headache.
One wonders: Have these people never read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique? Must each generation rediscover anew the inevitable conflicts — still sharper for women — between career and family? Is it really a revelation that most (not all) fathers go blithely about their business while women busily bond and diaper?
To these familiar battles, Molly Smith Metzler’s Cry It Out — which premiered at the prestigious Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville in 2017 — adds the variable of class, suggesting unsurprisingly that women’s choices are constrained by their financial circumstances.
Simpatico Theatre’s vibrant production, directed by Tamanya M.M. Garza, opens up the question of race (and makes the show more inclusive) by casting African Americans as two of the play’s three struggling mothers.
Even if little of what Metzler has to say about motherhood — and the pull of work, the value of female friendship, and the inequities of class — is new, she says it well. Simpatico’s staging stresses the play’s comic aspects over its angst-inspiring dilemmas. The production benefits, too, from strong ensemble work and the intimacy of the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, where the audience is akin to an eavesdropping neighbor.
Cry It Out is set entirely in an unprepossessing backyard in the Long Island village of Manorhaven, part of the socioeconomically diverse town of Port Washington. (Marie Laster’s set might have done a better job of suggesting the proximity of affluent Sands Point, which overlooks Manorhaven and figures prominently in the plot.)
One of the two central characters is Lina (Brandi Burgess), a working-class mom with a supportive partner but a big child-care problem. Her next-door neighbor and unlikely new friend is Jessie (Angelica Jackson), on a partnership track at a Manhattan law firm but desperate to stay home with the baby — even at the cost of her husband’s social and real-estate aspirations and her own legal career.
One of their backyard coffee breaks is interrupted by Mitchell (Newton Buchanan), who lives in Sands Point and wants his wife Adrienne (Anita Holland), another new mother, to join them. Adrienne, a haughty and successful jewelry designer, turns out to be an unwilling conscript to female bonding.
Burgess’ Lina, a character adept at clowning and self-dramatization, gets most of the laughs. Buchanan’s Mitchell is goofy enough to add to the fun. It’s hard to know how to feel about Holland’s Adrienne, who starts out superior and bored but gradually assumes more depth and humanity.
It is Jackson’s moving depiction of Jessie that anchors the show. The young, raucous opening-night audience applauded Jessie’s determination to stay home with her daughter, as though the women’s movement were ancient history. But to its credit, Cry It Out makes clear that its title applies as much to the complex frustrations of new mothers as to the sleep issues of their babies.