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Playwright Molly Smith Metzler wants new moms to look up from their baby monitors and feel seen.
For that to happen, those tired, hard-laboring women will need their infants to stop screaming and talk someone else into caring for said child. Then they can come see Metzler’s 2017 so-worth- changing-out-of-mom-jeans-for play Cry It Out.
It only runs 90 minutes, so even a mom from the ’burbs has time to get downtown, see the play, and get home before her breasts start leaking.
In Cry It Out, not only does Metzler nail the comical challenges of lactation, she lays bare the big-picture adjustments faced by parents in the United States. In one scene, a nursing mom dissolves into embarrassed laughter because she accidentally greeted the FedEx guy with “one tit hanging out.” But it’s not funny that she has to return to work so soon, and that another mom is facing a health insurance roadback and that all three partnerships in this play seem one more sleepless night away from splitsville.
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Few plays so accurately depict the aftermath of birth, for good reasons, like playwrights having historically been dudes and babies making terrible scene partners. Metzler deftly dodges that issue with a clever premise: Cry It Out is about new moms who meet up while their infants sleep. They clutch (decaf?) coffee mugs in one hand and baby monitors in the other.
The play is set in Port Washington, a gentrifying Long Island neighborhood where Metzler herself moved as a new mom. Lina (a fantastic Dina Thomas, akin to Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny) is a hospital receptionist from a working class enclave where her babydaddy delivered pizza. In lieu of daycare, they move to the run-down rental where he grew up, and hope his mom sobers up enough to help care for the baby.
Jessie (Emjoy Gavino, sweetly and sincerely giving everyone neighbor FOMO) is a corporate lawyer who left her Lexington Avenue one-bedroom for a suburban duplex. Her husband makes the 35-minute rain ride to Penn Station. And theoretically she will too, should she return to work for the law firm where she’s up for partner.
If infants were better conversationalists, these two would never become BFFs.
“It’s a lot of me and her alone in Room,” Jessie analogies. “Do you know that novel, Room? It won the Booker Prize? It’s a beautiful story about a woman who’s held captive for years.”
“Oh, Room. The movie!” Lina says, giant hoop earrings jangling as she nods.
These are immensely likable characters who against all socio-economic odds realize they have much in common. As Lina puts it, “We’re held hostage all day in dirty yoga pants by little larval creatures who would literally die if we checked our email.”
(For the record, only Jessie owns Lululemon. Lina wears knock-off Juicy velour.)
This perfect support group for two is interrupted by a third mom who is indeed checking her email. Adrienne (Tessa Klein) arrives wearing leather leggings and with iPad in hand. A high-end jewelry designer, she pays a nanny instead of staring at a monitor, and only shows up because her husband Mitchell (Paolo Andino) insists she leave the studio in their nearby mansion. (The fantastic set by Chelsea M. Warren juxtaposes panoramic photos of the Manhattan skyline with homes from all income brackets.) Adrienne is not likable, nor does she seem real. Her heartlessness is extreme, and her contempt is a tough sell in a play that otherwise champions empathy.
When Klein is not onstage degrading the other three characters, Cry It Out is a beautiful, believable picture of how imperfect new parents strive to cope in a society that offers little support. While audiences can’t give these characters single-payer health care or paid parental leave, we can offer applause for a play that puts all these problems on stage while insisting that a liberal sense of humor is the only way to survive on so little sleep.
To Dec. 16 at 1591 14th St. NW. $20–$104. (202) 332-3300. studiotheatre.org.