A smart script about motherhood and a quartet of talented actors are at the center of Moxie Theatre’s newest production, Cry It Out, playing through September 10, 2023.
Directed by Vanessa Duron and written by Molly Smith Metzler, this play, whose title references a sleep training technique for newborns, introduces a duo of mothers and neighbors, Jessie and Lina. Jessie is a warm, midwestern-born corporate lawyer who is about to make partner at her firm if she can pry herself away from yoga pants and snuggling her infant, while Lina, South Shore raised, is candid, mouthy, and deeply loyal. Eager to find another mother who can relate to the ins and outs of caring for a baby, Jessie invites Lina, who is living next door with her mother-in-law to save money, to join her for a cup of coffee in the small strip of grass between their homes that has baby monitor reception. The two women are from vastly different backgrounds and financial situations, yet find commonalities in the intense pride and loneliness they feel as new mothers. Then, Mitchell arrives, an investment banker from an overlooking mansion who hopes that the two will expand their coffee club to include his wife, Adrienne, who he fears is suffering from postpartum depression.
The play features four very talented performers. Katee Drysdale, who plays Jessie, is warm, generous, and genuine. Opposite her, Kylie Young’s Lina has grown up in tougher circumstances, but has found ways to triumph and to move her family forward and Young does a great job of personifying the pride that Lina has built in herself, her confidence in her parenting decisions, and her defensiveness of her friend and her child. Alex Guzman, who plays Mitchell, reads as intense and somewhat panicked in the part, which serves as foreshadowing for when the women finally meet his polished, testy jewelry designer wife, played by Leah Morgan.
But what seems simple, in truth is not, because this is not a show about a mom meetup… not really. Cry It Out uses caricatures of mothers – recognizable to the women who have seen and been them – to paint over the challenges of motherhood (physically recovering from childbirth, being home alone with a baby, debating whether or not to return to work, the differing ways in which moms and dads are treated, and the relationships between class and parenthood) with a broad brush, but what it is really about is identity. How much of someone’s identity do they bring forward with them into motherhood? How much is forged? How do the traumas, challenges, expectations, and celebrations change them? Metzler has created a script with a lot of potential for depth and meaning… one that can resonate with many parents.
Unfortunately, some of this nuance is missed in this particular production. The script offers clear throughlines that make the story powerful and drive the climax forward, but some of these cues have been missed. [Spoiler warning] For example, early on, Lina shares her distaste for sleep training and crying it out, citing how barbaric she finds the idea of her child not being comforted by someone who loves him. After all, she says, she doesn’t “hate babies.” However, in a connected scene near the end of the show, the audience witnesses heartbroken Lina leaving her mother-in-law’s house in the middle of the night. The scene is played as if grandma’s alcoholism is the real betrayal to sober Lina when, in actuality, it is the single bottle that Max has been given in the eight hour period – his broken trust that someone will come and help when he needs them. Shifts like this one, existing solely in the delivery and blocking of the scenes, would help the audience understand these women more as mothers and would make the final scenes even more impactful and poignant. [End spoilers]
Cry It Out, like many shows at Moxie Theatre, is being played on a beautiful realistic set (Alyssa Kane) which features the back of two duplexes, one stucco and the other brick, a wooden fence and gate spanning between the two, and the accoutrements of suburbia: a grill, sand toys, a trash can, and a bicycle. Sound designer Roselle Angeline Castro has created an effective sound plot which includes phone sound effects, birds, and the crash of water at the shore. All actors are well lit throughout and co-lighting designers Sierra Shreves and Colby Freel have creatively executed both daytime and nighttime palettes including a car-in-driveway effect that works particularly well. Costumes for this production are polished but carry that new-mom feel, thanks to designer Carmen Amon, and props by Rai Feltmann work well for the scenes.
In a pre-show speech, theater representatives pointed out a nursing station in the audience as well as one in the lobby and shared their hope that new moms in the community would feel comfortable bringing their babies to the show. I think that many would truly benefit from and enjoy this story, with a caveat to be cognizant that parenting-related emotional triggers are explored (birth trauma, breastfeeding challenges, infertility, miscarriage, and postpartum depression). It is a dark comedy and one that may be challenging for audiences in the thick of it all… though deeply relatable and well-acted.
Cry It Out plays at Moxie Theatre through September 10.
Read the program.