How many times, whether on television, on the big screen at a movie theatre, or on stage have we had our heartstrings tugged at with the story of a single parent dealing with adversity and finding ways to overcome their obstacles?
It’s a standard story line that has grown and evolved over the years as divorce rates have increased or as more and more children were being born out of wedlock.
But the emotional struggles of difficulties with parenting alone are not just for the single parent.
That may sound like an odd sentence, but rest assured there is a whole other segment of society who are parents and who battle similar, if not unique, demons with their children.
They are sometimes overlooked, often forgotten, and equally at risk of falling victim to their battles with parental stress.
That’s why a play like Molly Smith Metzler’s Cry It Out is so important. It reminds us that parents in committed relationships, regardless of their lifestyles or financial situations, deal with the struggle too, and often have to lean on one another to survive, even for the briefest of time.
Cry It Out is set on Long Island, New York, in Nassau County in 2017 and focuses on the relationship between two women with newborns who happen to be next door neighbors. They quickly become fast friends, but things change rapidly once a third mom and her husband are introduced into the mix.
This fast-moving drama – with a healthy dose of levity to keep audiences on their toes – is currently being presented by Simpatico Theatre at the Drake Theatre through June 23.
You may only have two weeks left to see it, so do yourself a favor, skip the shore for a weekend, see if grandpop can take the kids to their evening activities, or call out sick from work for one night. Do whatever you can to get yourself down to Center City and see this production.
Director Tamanya M.M. Garza accomplished the most important things a director has to accomplish with a show: finding a perfect cast, keeping the pace moving at the pace that is required for each scene – not moving things too fast nor slowing them up too much – and allowing the actors the freedom to unearth nuggets in their characters that may not be immediately identifiable in the script, adding a lot of color and depth to the production.
Angelica Jackson (Jessie) and Brandi Burgess (Lina) are a perfect pair for the story’s two central characters.
Burgess has audiences laughing from her first line through most of the play with her slightly crazy but well-meaning portrayal of Lina, a recovering addict with bad credit living with her baby daddy and his alcoholic mother.
She’s got the lawn-guy-land accent down pat and the New York atty-tood to boot. She’s such an engaging storyteller that you find yourself focusing intently on every word she speaks for fear of missing something hysterical or eerily relatable that she might utter – whether she’s intentionally trying to be funny or not.
It’s as virtuoso a performance of that middle-aged woman you see in the Walmart talking to herself as she buys the strangest collection of foodstuffs, clothing and household items as you will ever find.
The beauty of it is, it doesn’t upstage Jackson at all. Because for as much as Burgess’ Lina wears her heart on her sleeve, Jackson’s Jessie is dealing with suppressed emotions that befit a more modest lifestyle.
For even though she is Lina’s neighbor, she is a lawyer and she and her husband live much more comfortably. However, it is because of that that she struggles with the stigma of potentially giving up her lucrative career to become a stay-at-home mom.
As such, Jessie has a much slower burn than Lina. And although we are instantly drawn to Lina because she is so in-your-face, even though it takes awhile to warm up to Jessie’s problems being more than just first world, Jackson gets you there expertly.
It’s tough sometimes to be the person who has to maintain an outward appearance of happiness and success. That’s Jessie’s struggle. That, and the fact that she’s always been a go-getter from Chicago, who moved to New York and has been at the top of her career until her baby girl came along.
But the more comfortable Jessie becomes with Lina, the more we learn that everything isn’t as great as it seems in Jessie’s world, and that world is temporarily turned upside down when the antagonist Mitchell arrives on the scene.
Mitchell (Newton Buchanan), lives up on the hill in a very upscale development that looks down on the shared backyard of Lina and Jessie. He and his wife Adrienne (Anita Holland) also have a newborn, although things are not good for the wealthy couple and Mitchell hopes Jessie and Lina, who he has seen from his perch on the hill frequently having coffee together in their yard, will let his wife join in the fun in hopes of changing her attitude about being a mom.
Buchanan plays Mitchell with a charming and nervous edge that is both endearing and disturbing at the same time. After all, most of us working-class stiffs enjoy taking pleasure in the small misfortunes of the well-to-do, so when we see this frazzled guy show up on the set with a problem his high-six-figure salary can’t fix, we get a laugh out of the audacity that he can just burst into a stranger’s back yard and suggest that they fix his wife.
However, once it’s suggested that Adrienne is possibly dealing with a serious case of post-partum depression, you can’t help but feel bad for Mitchell, who is obviously desperate to change his situation.
And once he starts showing up with more frequency, the chemistry between he and Jackson as actors is deliciously palpable. You find yourself torn between the varying paths down which the story can venture, and which you would prefer to see.
Especially after meeting Adrienne, who definitely has her issues. She is immediately detestable, which is a testament to Holland’s performance. She explodes onto the scene as a purely entitled bitch, but once you get to learn the truth behind her, you’ll definitely have to wipe the egg off your face, and Holland leads us into that position with a true understanding of character that doesn’t warn the audience of the dangerous curves on the road in front of them.
It’s a perfect piece for a setting as intimate as the Drake Theatre and the lighting design by Alyssandra Docherty was so subtly smart that it set the mood for each scene of the show – whether it was the bright sunshine of the fun scenes between Lina and Jessie, or the scorching mid-day haze when we meet Adrienne, or the growing darkness from dusk to night in Act II when everyone’s lives are altered. Just fine work there.
The set, designed by Marie Laster, was simple but smart. Jessie’s portion of the yard had a plush lawn, a small, portable plastic baby playground and lawn furniture. While Lina’s portion of the yard lacked grass – just some woodchips representing an abandoned garden, and a chair on the porch that was likely a place Lina would escape to get away from her troubles before she met Jessie.
Ariel Wang’s costumes were very modern and worked well and Elizabeth Atkinson’s sound design replete with babies cooing and crying, lullabies and baby monitor sounds added a nice touch to the production.
Kudos to Garza, her team, her cast and to Simpatico for staging what is a lovely, funny yet poignant piece of theatre to share with its audiences.