Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Set in upscale suburbs of Long Island's north shore, Cry It Out opens with the first backyard get-together between Jessie (Taous Claire Khazem) and Lina (Katie Consamus), hurriedly arranged in the produce aisle at Stop & Shop when they recognized each other as next door neighbors who are mothers of newborns. With baby monitors in towthe play takes place on Jessie's patio, so Lina makes sure the signal from her monitor picks up her sleeping 7-week-oldthey share coffee, the indignities of breastfeeding, and more.
These two women come from very different worlds. Jessie a college-educated Midwesterner, refined and modest, while Lina is a brassy native, from working-class Long Beach on the south shore. Her loud Long Island-accented speech is freely peppered with four letter words. Jessie and her husband Nate purchased a modest duplex in Port Washington while they save money to move up the hill to ritzier Sands Point. They lived in the city before the baby, but Nate grew up in a nearby tony enclave, Plandome, where his intrusive parents still reside. Lina and John live with his alcoholic mother Yolanda, who will provide childcare for their baby when Linda returns to her job as an aide at a nearby hospital in 24 daysa proposition that greatly concerns Lina. But living with Yolanda allows them to save up to buy their own place toothough in Port Washington, not Sands Pointso their kids can attend the same great schools as the rich kids who live up the hill.
In spite of their different backgrounds, the two women firmly bond over their shared new adventure into motherhood and look forward to their daily backyard meet-ups which produce an abundance of very funny dialogue for the audience to lap up. Then, one day, Mitchell (Matt Wall) appears. He lives in Sands Point, in fact, right up the hill from their backyards. As he tells them, not meaning it as an affront, "We look down on you." He and his wife Adrienne (Audrey Park) also have a new baby, and she is having a really hard time adjusting to motherhood, in spite of their full-time live-in nanny. Mitchell has seen, from on high, the happy exchanges between Jessie and Lina and asks if they can invite Adrienne to join them. To say that Adrienne is an unwilling participant is an understatement. Jessie tries her best to make Adrienne feel comfortable with themLena couldn't care lessto no avail, while Mitchell becomes increasingly anxious about his wife's temperament and its affect on their daughter.
Angela Timberman, herself a sublime performer in comedies much like Cry It Out, directs the piece with a fine-tuned sense of balance as to when to let the waves of funny dialogue tickle the ribs of her audience, and when to draw in and pay attention to the heart and the hurt beneath the laughter, which she does with a deft, sensitive hand. All of these characters have back stories and current worries that make their lives more complicated than a reading of the surface would show. In the end, no one's optimistically forged plans work out as they had hoped, but we know that they will find the way to move ahead, and make parenthood work within the bounds of lives that are more complicated than they signed up for.
Khazem is the center and the heart of the play as Jessie, and she gives a beautiful performance of a woman caught between conflicting valuesher husband and in-laws' expectations that she be a status seeker, her employer's demands that she be a committed professional, her awkwardness around Lina, diminishing the privileges her better financial standing provides, and listening to her own yearnings to be able to raise her child herself, and not farmed out to nannies or child care centers, no matter how elite. Her Jessie is very funny, in a befuddled, trying-too-hard way, but she also reaches down to the harsh truths of her life, expressing sincere empathy toward the plights of others.
Consamus, in the more comedic role of Lina, displays great talent delivering zingy one-liners, a woman aware of her own loud and pushy demeanor, but making no apologies for it. Yet, there comes a time when she too must face a setback, and trade the laughs for hard knocks. Park is a maelstrom of anger and bitterness as Adrienne. She knows herself well enough to try to hold back her real feelings, which only makes her appear rude, but when she at least unleashes the tempest, watch out!
Only Wall as Mitchell is a bit off: likeable but too mild-mannered to believe as a match for Adrienne. It is hard to imagine how they ever came together. His mild nature serves well at the end, when he too makes a life-changing decision, but one would expect to see this be the result of a discovery within himself, rather than his obvious bent from his first appearance. Some of this dissonance lies within Metzler's script, but Wall's sweet-natured performance, while agreeable, does not connect the dramatic dots.
Joel Sass has designed the backyard setting, with his typical flair for authentic detailing, while Courtney Schmitz bathes the space in light that guides us through the days, from early mornings to mid-afternoons to late nights. Ash M. Kaun has costumed the actors as one would expect these denizens of different strata of suburban affluence to dress.
The title, Cry It Out, comes up early on, when Jessie and Lena, during their first meeting, discuss whether or not they will practice this approach to parenting: letting their babies cry till the are cried out, to avoid making them overly dependent, or rushing in to hold them when they cry, so they know that they can always depend on their mother's comfort. The course of the play shows affirms the truth that all of us need comfort and support we can count on, and also need to be independent with a sense of our own strength. There are no simple best-methods in parenting, or in any other facet of life.
Yellow Tree has mounted a vibrant production of a comedy very worth catching. Cry It Out will make you laugh, while using the rituals and routines of parenthood to illustrate the way the choices we make, and choices made for us, stitch together our lives.
Cry It Out, through May 12, 2019, at Yellow Tree Theatre, 320 5th Ave SE, Osseo MN. Tickets $20.00 - $27.00; $10.00 rush tickets starting 30 minutes before each performance, pending availability. $3.00 per ticket discount for seniors (65+), students with valid ID and military veterans. For information and tickets call 763-493-8733 or visit YellowTreeTheatre.com.
Playwright: Molly Smith Metzler; Director: Angela Timberman; Set Design: Joel Sass; Costume Design: Ash M. Kaun; Lighting Design: Courtney Schmitz; Sound Design: Montana Johnson; Prop Design: Nicole DelPizzo; Technical Director: Matthew A. Gilbertson; Stage Manager: Brianna Regan.
Cast: Katie Consamus (Lina), Taous Claire Khazem (Jessie), Audrey Park (Adrienne), Matt Wall (Mitchell).