Two BFFs share the challenge of new parenthood in compassionate 'Cry It Out' at Hartford Stage
HARTFORD, Conn. — Molly Smith Metzler's compassionate, insightful "Cry It Out" — "a new play about new parents," as Metzler describes it in the script — begins with two women in the process of becoming friends.
Jessie (played winningly by Rachel Spencer Hewitt in the inviting, equally insightful production "Cry It Out" is being given at Hartford Stage) is in her mid-30s. A transplant to New York from her native Chicago, she is on the verge of becoming partner in a corporate law firm in Manhattan. She and her businessman husband, Nate, have moved from a one-bedroom walk-up apartment on Manhattan's East Side to a two-family duplex in Nate's native Port Washington on Long Island's North Shore to raise their now 12-week-old daughter, Allison.
The play's setting is the barren back yard of Jessie and Nate's duplex. It is that uncertain no man's land between the end of winter and the onset of spring. The only furniture is a colorful play set which now serves as impromptu furniture for Jessie and her newfound BFF, Lina (a radiant, brash, earthy, funny Evelyn Spahr), who has come to the Port with her partner, John, and their son, Max, who is roughly Allie's age, to live with John's mother, who consumes boxed wine as if the second coming of prohibition were rapidly approaching.
On the surface, Jessie and Lina, couldn't be a more unlikely pair. The economically advantaged Jessie is gracious, warm, thoughtful, a bit measured and controlled. The economically disadvantaged Lina is a recovering alcoholic and addict, sober eight years, who has what she sarcastically characterizes as an "entry level" job at a Long Island hospital. She has come to Port Washington from Long Beach on Long Island's South Shore. "It's loud and salty and all about the ocean. Just like me," she says to Jessie at one point.
They have only just met, by chance, at the local Stop 'n' Shop. Despite the class and economic divide between them, the kinship is sincere and natural. As played with such reward by Hewitt and Spahr, there is a menschiness about these two; an appealing, easy authenticity that makes their friendship feel natural and easy, especially as that friendship develops over the course of the play's roughly three-week time span.
Metzler takes her time allowing the relationship between Jessie and Lina to develop. But Jessie's seeming ease and amiability belies an underlying anxiety. She has decided she wants to leave the law firm to be a full-time mother. She is marshaling all her arguments and reasoning as she nervously prepares to discuss her decision with Nate. "He's a planner, his business brain I think," Jessie says to Lina. "He has us on a 10-year plan that depends on us being double income. He comes from a home where his mother didn't really raise the four children. There was a baby nurse, then there was a nanny, then there was a family assistant, so he's not going to understand why I would want to do it myself."
"I want our daughter to be held, fed, loved, burped and comforted by her mother," Jessie passionately tells Lina later on as she stands in for Nate in a practice session for The Discussion.
For Lina, the choice of going back to work after her maternity leave ends is no choice at all. John is in a better situation working at a halfway house but money is, at best, tight. Lina and John cannot afford day care so Max will be left in the care of John's wine-consuming mother while they are at work; a situation that does not sit easily with Lina..
Entering into this mix is a couple who live in a tony Port Washington neighborhood — Adrienne (perfectly crafted by Caroline Kinsolving as a human arctic vortex until she explodes in a fury of accumulated, unspent rage), an internationally known jewelry designer who has just won an exclusive contract with Tiffany's and apparently has little, if any time, to spend with her infant daughter, Livia; and her husband, Mitchell (an affecting Erin Gann), who founded and runs an investment capital firm. Deeply concerned about Adrienne's seeming detachment from Livia — "I have not seen her touch our daughter in 5 weeks," he says — shows up at Jessie's house one day, out of the blue, asking if Adrienne could join Jessie and Lina's daily coffee klatches, which he's been spying on with a telescope from the back yard of his cliffside house, which overlooks Jessie's back yard.
Metzler has packed a great deal into "Cry It Out." She's given us an array of characters — onstage and off — who are vividly drawn and richly human, especially in director Rachel Alderman's smooth, subtly crafted production.
"Cry It Out" draws its title from a sleep training method that is based on the principle that the best thing to do if your baby begins crying in the middle of the night is to simply let the infant cry it out.
"It's barbaric," Lina tells Jessie, who uses the technique. "You put your baby down in a dark crib and let them scream and scream until they learn no one is coming for them?
"I think you're supposed to cry when you're all alone in a dark room. That's what I think. And I think your mom or dad — or someone who loves you — is supposed to come help you."
And if no one does? What then?
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