Cry It Out, by Molly Smith Metzler. Directed by Marc Masterson. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Clea Alsip as Jessie, Janie Brookshire as Adrienne, Andrea Syglowski as Lina; photo: Joey Moro
"Rip the band-aid."
Andrea Syglowski, Clea Alsip; photo: Joey Moro
Molly Smith Metzler's play, "Cry It Out," currently on stage at the Dorset Theatre Festival, is a play about the reality of motherhood in the 21st century, it is about the nature of friendship, it is about the need to move beyond the simple measures taken to keep a wound from festering and the difficulties in surmounting all of these tasks. Jessie is a new mother; she adores her child and spends so much time with her that baby Allison is in danger of smothering. The baby nearly died in childbirth and so her mother Jessie, a lawyer approaching partnership, has allotted her a special place in the world and in her heart.
Lina is a new mother. She is Jessie's next door neighbor and she and John, the baby's father, reside with his alcoholic mother. She also adores her child, but she has a different method of showing it. A triage nurse on maternity leave she has a philosophy drawn from the common world of near poverty and maximum pleasure.
Adrienne is a new mother. She, allegedly, refuses to bond with her baby spending her time, instead, engrossed in her work as a jewelry designer leaving her husband Mitchell to care for the newborn, a task he embraces with alacrity. Mitchell is more the new mother in his household and he becomes obsessed with that job that he has willingly undertaken, encouraged by their couples therapist.
A tale of four mothers (essentially) and their relationships with their infants. The author, Molly Smith Metzler, has given us four very different "mothers" and brought them together in a backyard in Port Washington, on the north shore of Long Island, NY. Each one has specific goals in mind and totally separate realities when it comes to the care and feeding of baby, spouse, and themselves. Lina and Jessie become close friends. Adrienne is disinterested and, later, violent about this friendship and Mitchell envies it, covets it although his actual motives become blurred near the end of this ninety minute one-act play.
Conflict arises from within the relationships among the four characters along with conflicts in those relationships we never see. I longed to meet Jessie's controling husband, Lina's partner and his mother, the nanny on the hill who attends to Adrienne's child. We neither see nor hear these people but their actions, words, directions dominate the play from off-stage and we have only the testimony of those on-stage on which to form our judgements of each situation.
For a long time it is a competition for worst household experience between Mitchell and Lina. However it doesn't take too long before Jessie's life starts making its way through her morass of troubles
Mitchell is played by Greg Keller who exudes an awkward tenderness complicated by his use of a telescope with which he spies on Jessie and Lina. If there is a teeter-totter existence in this play it is Mitchell's and Keller brings off the awkwardness in his home life and love life and parenting skills wonderfully well. He is, ultimately, the most sympathetic character in the play, for all the wrong reasons. Unlike Jessie who dominates the play Mitchell exhibits his needs from the get-go and realizes most of them. Keller manages to do all that without losing the intrinsic charm of this man. He is never entirely a sympathetic character, but neither is he somone to be pitied. His personal homelife plight is one that seems resolvable with a bit of attention paid instead of judgement drawn. I found myself liking Mitchell as Keller played him, liking him very much.
Janie Brookshire as his wife, Adrienne, has only two scenes but they are rivetng. In the first she is diffident, rude, rather obnoxious and certainly indifferent. In the second she is threatening, violent, scornful and self-serving. Bringing a unique perspective to this play, her work provided more than the script would seem to call for: a hard, calloused quality that I truly liked. In the writing she is not likeable, but in the playing she is oddly sympathetic and I admired this performance very much.
Brookshire walks down a steep slope in her second scene, performing a ritual hazing of her neighbor. That she does it with dexterity is amazing for the set designed by David L. Arsenault clearly defines property lines, presents a very real setting, and is steep to boot. The neglected back yard of Jessie's house says a lot about her six year marriage and her relationship with her husband and his oppressive family. The set works to the benefit of the play.
Greg Keller; photo: Joey Moro
Andrea Syglowski, Clea Alsip; photo: Joey Moro
While Michael Giannitti's effective lighting gives us both time of day and change of season nicely, I would have appreciated a projection at the start of each scene, just to tell me how far we've come in the lives of these people. Sidney Maresca's costumes beautifully defined each character and her/his state of mind from scene to scene.The subtle soundwork of Sinan Refik Zafar helped the realism of the play.
The two women whose awkward, then all-important, friendship is at the core of the play, Jessie and Lina, are played by Clea Alsip and Andrea Syglowski respectively. Alsip is a Nordic goddess while Syglowski is an earthy, Mediterranean work-horse. If opposites attract these two have that going for them from the outset. As the play progresses Jessie takes on many of Lina's attributes and Lina becomes more devoted to motherhood ala Jessie. I love plays where the two principals are changed by knowing one another and that seems to be the goal of this author, to show how this closeness and community sensibility in new motherhood can alter character.
Clea Alsip is a wonderful Jessie, totally believable and sincere in both the purity of her devotion and the honesty in her convictions. Towards the end, convinced by her husband to relax some of her newfound self-regulatory notions, Alsip's Jessie becomes less representative of idealism and more the 21st century realist than we have anticipated. I found Alsip to be absolutely believable throughout this transition.
Andrea Syglowski's Lina takes the opposite course and although I often had difficulty understanding her spoken words, I never had a problem seeing and hearing her motivation. This is a performance that is compelling and alarming. We never know from moment to moment where this woman is headed, but the actress manages to keep her of a piece, even at the end of the play when she has graduated to sultry, earthy Nordic goddess standing, a peculiar place to be and yet so rght. Her absence from the neighborhood of this stage setting has an amazing effect on Alsip's Jessie and the play stops rather than ends. I'm not sure if that is right, but that is what it is.
A play I'd like to read before seeing it again, this company seems to have done a lovely job of putting it on its feet. The director has been credited with commissioning it from the author and was responsible for its first production as well as for this one so presumably what we got is what is intended by this creative team. I think it was a "get" worth having, but wonder about its looser ends and a real conclusion.
Cry It Out continues at the Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, VT, through July 14. For information and tickets go to www.dorsettheatrefestival.org or call the box office at 802-867-2223, ext. 101.