BWW Review: COST OF LIVING is the Citadel's Latest Tear-Jerker
Intimate. Poignant. Heartbreaking. These are only three ways to describe Cost of Living, the Citadel Theatre's first 2020 offering. Written by Polish playwright Martyna Majok, the Pulitzer-winning production paints a compassionate portrait of ability, race, and socio-economic status. A combination of raw vulnerability and caustic humour, the play casts light on hardships weathered by those affected by disabilities and those who love them.
We first meet Eddie (Ashley Wright), a loquacious but grieving widower. Treating the rapt audience as a drinking buddy, he relays his turbulent relationship with his deceased wife Ani (Teal Sherer), regaling with quirky anecdotes one moment and fighting tears the next. Through a subsequent series of flashbacks, we witness their deteriorating marriage firsthand, experiencing the ripple effect leading to Ani's fateful accident and resulting quadriplegia.
Their story entwines with that of John (Christopher Imbrosciano), a clever PHD student. Through his interactions with prickly but compassionate caregiver Jess (Bahareh Yaraghi), we go through the motions of his life as an affluent wheelchair-bound academic. The pair gradually bonds after an argumentative first meeting, sharing heart-rending secrets and razor-sharp banter. Through a series of unforeseen circumstances, their narrative eventually joins Eddie's, culminating in a tense finale.
World-class performances are the production's beating heart. Wright is especially compelling in both his monologues and scenes with Sherer. Together, they make it easy to forget their fictitious world; Eddie and Ani feel just as real as family or next-door neighbours. They share what is arguably the play's most tender scene, in which Eddie plays piano on Ani's arm, matching the chords to that of the music playing. Likewise, Imbrosciano and Yaraghi feel like "real" people as opposed to fictional characters, showcasing the human spirit's resilience and compassion. Despite an unsatisfactory conclusion to their narrative, both actors showcase impressive emotional versatility and a strong onstage chemistry.
However minimal, the production is nevertheless atmospheric. From the reflections of stained-glass windows in St. Mazie's pub to the all-brown interior of Ani's apartment, you can't help but feel as if you're right there with the characters. The setting is further enhanced by palpable drafts and fleecy snowflakes; transitions are enabled smoothly by an effective revolving track.
Raw and unflinching, Cost of Living is a sensitive study of the human spirit's endurance. It runs at the Citadel Theatre until February 2nd.