BWW Review: CRY IT OUT at Apollinaire Theatre Company
You know those cartoons where the little fish is eaten by a bigger fish and then, just when you think everything is going to be fine, that fish is eaten by an even bigger fish? That kind of sums up how Molly Smith Metzler's 2017 play, Cry It Out unfolds in its new production by Apollinaire Theatre Company. The piece begins like a playwright's exercise, juxtaposing two young mothers from a New York suburb with little in common within the mutual confines of where their baby monitors can still receive signals from their respective nurseries. Through almost-realistic exchanges, we meet Lina, a rowdy, working class woman who has just had a baby boy named Max and Jessie, an upper-middle class corporate lawyer who has just given birth to a baby girl named Allison.
Lily Kaufman's Lina is a boisterous, irreverent delight, braggadociously spilling her family's history through a refreshingly exaggerated accent and grumbling about the boredom of new motherhood or the agonies of breastfeeding. She is agile in her ability to navigate tone, landing witty punchlines one moment and reminding us of the very real struggles of being a working mother in the next. Providing an almost incessant contrast to Kaufman's largeness is the nuance that Becca A Lewis gives us in Jessie. Lewis is to realism as Merman was to musical comedy- a living embodiment of what the genre requires and a pinnacle of comprehension of a style. Her voice flirts with raspiness or the crack of almost-crying without ever becoming unpleasant and her movements, whether stuffing her hands in the pockets of her cardigan or climbing on a small, plastic slide, feel constantly supported by the text without ever feeling premeditated. The two venture nobly through the tropes of diametrically-opposed-finances and Metzler's occasionally diagrammatic script, keeping the audience engaged beyond the fleeting interest in the contrasting viewpoints left didactically on display.
Once the two have exhausted their verbal Venn diagrams of everything from the privilege of choosing to be a stay-at-home mom to their perspectives on co-sleeping, I had settled in, resolved to pass the rest of the evening without surprise as the Prince and the Pauper compared their lives. Just then, enter a new character. Mitchell, an extremely wealthy man who lives on the cliff overlooking their houses barges in and asks if his wife, Adrienne, a new mother herself, could socialize with the two women. They reluctantly agree and we meet the wealthy, blonde, jewelry designer who lives in the mansion on the hill. The role is challengingly abrasive. Amie Lytle speaks with a plaintive, harsh voice that cuts through the charm her co-stars have exuded into the space. (This is the polar opposite of her performance as the oleaginous Brutus in Praxis Stage Company's Coriolanus a few months ago!) Done up like Natalie Portman in BLACK SWAN, she gussies herself up with neither pomp nor circumstance and introduces a cold, reserved presence which seems fastidiously reluctant to engage with these women. However, both she and Cameron Gosselin (who plays Mitchell) give us an efficacious glimpse of the turmoils and tumult at work under the surfaces of their posh exteriors. (Perhaps someday, we will arrive at the Utopia in which a woman's rage or a man's expression of panic will not elicit laughs from our audiences, but unfortunately we are not there yet. At the fault of neither actor, their tender revelations of the cracks in their otherwise collected facades were received as jokes. A shame, but not a significant detriment to the performance.)
The play itself falls in an underwhelmingly familiar territory, attempting to sneak the pill of macro-issues inside the peanut butter-stuffed chew toy of micro-issues, and presenting the audience with more of a series of beliefs than a plot or characters. One could get whiplash as the characters blow through references to gender politics, strippers, generational wealth, and Whole Foods without pausing long enough to really establish a perspective on any of them. This ends-to-a-means formula is becoming more and more popular on Boston's stages, and it can be sort of exhausting to sit through. The style leaves Little Room for subtlety as it bulldozes through ideologies with all the grace of an introductory textbook. Ultimately, the play itself feels like it takes a reductionist view of motherhood, its complexities, and a modern person's right to choose whether or not to engage with parenting.
That said, director Danielle Fauteux Jacques has landed the slightly pedantic, holier-than-thou text in a warm, likable production. Very little feels contrived or forced, and the world of the piece feels like it has been thoughtfully processed, allowing the actors to bend the script toward its fullest potential. David Reiffel's sound design is absurd. Sometimes it works (like when the lights fade and we hear gentle music lull us back to the warmth of childhood or a baby gurgles softly on a monitor). Other times, it does not (like when the audience sits listening to 'Baby Shark' a bunch of times before the performance begins. I didn't know what the show was about when I arrived, but that did not quite set the right tone for this piece. Distortions of Elmo's voice taunt us during scene changes and I am equally unsure about what the impetus was behind such a choice). Scenic designer, Ilona Overweg's aesthetic sensibilities are kind of wasted on this production, but it certainly looks like the patio behind a house, so I guess she did her job.
It always feels odd to review shows for which I am not the intended demographic (for instance, writing about Willy Wonka at Wheelock Family Theatre or Latin History for Morons by John Leguizamo). I find that I become equally enthralled with the more appropriate audience members around me as with the performance unfolding before me. This piece was no different, and I feel compelled to mention that the old, heterosexual couples around me looked at each other knowingly or gripped each others' hands at sporadic intervals throughout the evening. I'm sure being a parent would give me a different perspective on this piece. But as a young person with no interest in having kids, I could certainly take it or leave it. I wonder, however, how an older person in a committed relationship who has chosen not to raise children might engage with this piece that does not seem to paint them in a positive light. Also, a plot element introducing the concept of a stay-at-home father does not pack as much of a punch for audience members in my age range as it might for those fastidious Archie Bunkers around me.
One productive takeaway from the evening is the ways in which the upper-middle class Jessie finds much more common ground with the working class Lina than with the über-wealthy Adrienne. Perhaps a timely reminder as we continue to be bombarded with choices about our next presidential election that most of us share more kinships with those we are taught to look down upon than with the CEOs we are asked to defend.
The production runs at Chelsea Theatre Works through January 19. More information is available here.