Review: A Hard Lesson Learned in THE COST OF LIVING

By: Jul. 16, 2016
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"The sh*t that happens is not meant to be understood," says lonely truck driver Eddie. The chewing gum and shoe string holding Eddie's head up is beginning to wane- teetering him on The Edge of devastation. He is now thrust back into reality trying to grasp the circumstance that landed him in this specific bar on this specific night. The dark loneliness of long, distant drives in his vocation were nothing compared to his present despair.

How do we make it through tragedy in one piece, yet begin to unravel when the dust settles? The Cost of Living by Martyna Majok, which played at the Williamstown Theatre Festival from June 29th to July 10th, follows four disparate characters as they attempt to build purpose from shattered pasts and understand the physical and emotional differences of those in close proximity.

Jumping back in time from the play's opening scene, Eddie and his ex-wife Ani reunite after a tragic car accident takes Ani's legs and renders her paralyzed. Two people from a failed marriage now find themselves awkwardly paired up again as Eddie becomes Ani's full-time caregiver. Next up, a 28 year old freelance caregiver named Jess and a Harvard doctoral student named John, who has cerebral palsy. The play's focus bounces between each couple with episodes themed around the individual struggles and conversations between caregiver and individual.

Majok's play featured excellent dialogue and characters with unique voices, but missing was a semblance of dramatic action. I struggled to understand the thematic significance of the specific series of disjointed scenes presented. Unfortunately, The Cost of Living appears more like a collection of scenes for an MFA acting class without something tying these often juicy scenes together.

Director Jo Bonney's work on The Cost of Living was sharply focused on presenting four strong performances. Mission accomplisheD. Wilson Chen's minimal set was simply two flats and some set dressing; lighting by Jeff Crotier was non-descript; and Ben Truppin-Brown's sound design music was incidental. None of these elements worked together to tell us anything. Only Jessica Pabst's apt costuming stood out as defining. Lack of technical uniform made for tedious scene transitions.

Redeeming was the robust cast of four that worked overtime adding in the missing pieces. The nuanced performances kept the audience engaged from start to finish. Wendell Pierce (Eddie) and Katy Sullivan (Ani) possessed natural onstage chemistry with echoing subtext. When Ani pointedly asks Eddie if he would be with her if the car accident had not occurred, Pierce's honest "Yes" implied there is something other than circumstances between the two. The two fine actors play with that effectively throughout their scenes. Pierce's charisma was put to great use in the form of summoning different tactics at putting a smile on Ani's face. Gregg Mozgala (John) & Rebecca Naomi Jones (Jess) find a lot of the humor in the material. Unfortunately, their scenes are shorter and less developed leaving a hunger for more when compared against Eddie and Ani.

Trying to emerge out of The Cost of Living was the idea of people shoehorned together under grave circumstances and watching them interact- suspectly Majok's mission for this observational play. I look forward to the progress Majok, Bonney, and team makes on The Cost of Living as they prepare for a New York premiere in the spring of 2017 at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Visit the Williamstown Theatre Festival's website for more information.

Photos by Daniel Rader


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