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BWW Review: CRY IT OUT Concludes Merrimack Rep's 40th Season

BWW Review: CRY IT OUT Concludes Merrimack Rep's 40th Season

Cry It Out

Written by Molly Smith Metzler, Directed by Amanda Charlton; Scenic Designer, Tim Mackabee; Costume Designer, Leon Dobkowski; Lighting Designer, Ann G. Wrightson; Sound Designer, Bart Fasbender; Production Stage Manager, Maegan A. Conroy

CAST (in alphabetical order): Erin Felgar, Polly Lee, Natasha Warner, Mark David Watson

Performances through May 19 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 East Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA; Box Office 978-654-4678 or www.mrt.org

Merrimack Repertory Theatre concludes its 40th season with Molly Smith Metzler's Cry It Out, a delightful human comedy that surfs along on the waves of a burgeoning friendship between a pair of mothers of newborn babies, while also acknowledging the myriad challenges that lurk beneath the surface. The playwright examines some of the decisions faced by families when baby makes three, bringing up socioeconomic differences, stresses on the marriage, and debating child-rearing best practices. Over coffee in their adjoining backyards, the women help each other navigate the waters of their new realities and learn that modern day motherhood is no day at the beach.

Set in Port Washington, Long Island, in the present day, the location juxtaposes the haves and the have-nots, the wealthy denizens of Sands Point situated on higher ground, looking down (literally and figuratively) on their middle- and lower-class neighbors in the village of Manorhaven. Jessie (Erin Felgar) and her husband Nate bought a duplex to benefit from rental income as part of their upwardly mobile financial plan. She is a corporate attorney on leave from a high stakes, high paying job, but is mulling the idea of becoming a stay-at-home mom. Lina (Natasha Warner) and her baby daddy John live with his mother in a rental next door, hoping to save enough to get their own place. She knows she must return to work as a clerical employee at the hospital, but is having a hard time with having to leave her son with John's mother.

After running into each other at story time at the library and on their sanity-saving excursions to Stop and Shop, Jessie and Lina bond quickly in their desperation for daily adult contact. Despite their different backgrounds and temperaments, they rely on each other for shared tips and camaraderie, coming to treasure their twice-daily al fresco coffee klatches during nap time. Their little paradise is threatened when Mitchell (Mark Watson), a strange man, comes into the yard. He nervously explains that he lives up above them and has observed their gatherings and how well they seem to handle their babies. After a moment of seeming like a voyeur or a creep, Mitchell blurts out a request that they would allow his wife, also a new mother, to join them. Lina tries to make excuses, but Jessie gives her assent.

Adrienne (Polly Lee) is the proverbial sore thumb, not so much joining their group as parking herself and her iPad on the periphery with the meter running. She is a renowned jewelry designer with a major league business, and her head is in a space that is totally foreign to her neighbors. Lina's rough-around-the-edges, genuine quality is no match for Adrienne's prickly cut-to-the-quickness, and the latter's impatience is only ratcheted up by Jessie's distraction with baby care. The gathering does not go well, but it serves to characterize the distinct differences among the three women and deepens the class divide.

Metzler's play is primarily character-driven, and the quartet on the MRT stage all inhabit their roles. Felgar's Jessie is a midwestern transplant who radiates warmth and a little insecurity, both of which belie her high-powered occupation. She conveys the internal struggle that Jessie is having about whether or not to return to work, and increasingly takes on the mommy traits. Felgar and Warner share a realistic portrayal of their relationship, from the initial phase of getting to know each other, to gradually opening up, and finally getting to the place of trust and emotional intimacy. Warner is fiery, funny, and vulnerable at different times, and believable in all aspects.

Mitchell and Adrienne are never on stage at the same time and one wonders how this couple ever got together. Watson evokes sympathy as he shows the character's struggle with his wife's seeming lack of connection to their baby, and finds himself relying on the comfort of hanging out with Jessie. His story arc takes him from power businessman to sensitive, new age guy pushing the stroller. Lee probably has the least stage time, but she packs a lot of punches into her scenes. She tries to contain her disdain for the meet up arranged by her husband, gritting her teeth and practicing the least amount of graciousness that she can muster. In a later scene, she explodes onto the set with a ferocious rant that leaves no doubt about Adrienne's motivations. The actors benefit from Metzler's skill at defining her characters, and they burrow in to portray them with great nuance.

Director Amanda Charlton establishes a pace and blocks the movement in a way that feels organic and keeps our interest, even though the action never leaves the yard. There are comings and goings, as well as numerous references to other people and gestures to indicate places off site, that make the world of the play feel larger. Tim Mackabee's unit set benefits from a variety of Ann G. Wrightson's lighting changes to indicate day and night, and costume designer Leon Dobkowski gives a hint of the seasons, as well as helping define the characters. Sound designer Bart Fasbender fills in the background sounds of the neighborhood, and provides underscoring during scene breaks.

About a year and a half ago, the Boston Playwrights' Theatre staged Elemenopea, an earlier work by the playwright, that featured strong female characters who were well-defined and spoke crisp dialogue. I had forgotten that Metzler wrote it, but I have not forgotten that my reaction was that the new play was definitely ready for prime time. Cry It Out is cut from similar cloth with strong, clearly-defined female characters, and dialogue that is alternately funny and poignant. With skilled direction and solid ensemble work, the Merrimack Rep production is cause for celebrating, not crying.

Photo credit: Meghan Moore (Natasha Warner, Erin Felgar, Polly Lee)



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