Saturday, May 19, 2018

Oh, Baby: Northlight's 'Cry It Out' Smartly Gets to the Heart of a New Mother's Dilemma -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Cry It Out
by Molly Smith Metzler
directed by Jessica Fisch
Northlight Theatre, Skokie, IL
Thru June 17

Without ever having been a husband or father, I've never been acutely involved in child rearing discussions or decisions.

Though an uncle of three, I also wouldn't purport to have any real understanding of early childhood development and what might be "best" for a baby, his/her mother or father--or why--on any level.

I also appreciate--as astutely explored in Molly Smith Metzler's excellent 100-minute play, Cry It Out, now in a stellar production at Northlight--that the "choice" about whether a new mother will stay at home with her child or return to the workforce is multifaceted, and likely never easy.

Whether highly successful in a career she's worked years to ascend within, or in a job that may not be wonderful but which provides essential income, any mom--and dad--with each child seemingly must weigh not only financial matters, but parameters pertaining to insurance coverage, maternity leave stipulations, future employment marketability, day care options/quality/cost and more.

Without getting too specific, I've observed a relative--quite accomplished in her rather specialized field, and with the blessing of in-laws quite willing to regularly watch the baby--return to her job, only to fairly soon then decide to be a full-time mom, prompted in part by heartbreakingly hearing her son call his grandma "Mommy."

So even though it's not a dilemma I've personally had to deal with, I'm quite empathetic to its complexity, difficulty and innate unfairness--whether societal, classist, sexist or simply biological.

Neither wanting to be with your child nor wishing to continue your career--or just earn a paycheck--seems wrong to me, and I would never judge anyone for the decision they make, especially given all the mitigating factors.

Metzler's play, nicely directed by Jessica Finch, centers around a first-time mom named Jessie (an excellent Darci Nalepa), who is a seasoned, partner-track lawyer on maternity leave from a big-name Manhattan law firm.

She and her unseen husband Nate--well-to-do himself and the son of quite wealthy parents who live nearby--have relocated from NYC to the quaint Port Washington on Long Island, much as Metzler and her husband actually did when she was pregnant.

As the play opens, Jessie is joined in her backyard by a neighboring, likewise baby-monitor-wielding new mom named Lina (Laura Lapidus, who is truly wonderful).

The two had recently met at a local store, and their ongoing "mommy meetups" over a matter of weeks form the structural heart of Cry It Out.

There is considerable candid, and occasionally explicit, discussion of maternal biology matters, with Lina being a rather sassy hoot.

Though not married, she is living with the baby's father in his mother's house. Money is clearly much tighter than for Jessie's family, and--without giving anything much away--Lina has already decided that she will soon return to work, while Jessie is intending not to.

Two other characters factor into the one-act play: a very wealthy but discordant husband and wife named Mitchell (the always great Gabriel Ruiz) and Adrienne (Kristina Valada-Viars, who does a fine job with a harsh characterization), herself also a new mom.

I've often said that any play, regardless of its subject matter or how closely it relates to one's own life, can be excellent, insightful and enlightening.

Cry It Out proves this, and--without being qualitatively definitive--I liked it far more than Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child, which I had seen well-staged at Writers Theatre just two nights earlier. 

From the get-go, Cry It Out just feels fresh, with Metzler's script deftly mixing poignancy and humor, and Lapidus and Nalepa especially seeming perfectly cast.

Forming the play's core, Jessie's and Lina's conversations, developing friendship, concerns and candor feel quite real and believable, and the crux of their "should I stay (home) or should I go (back to work)?" dilemma is eminently empathetic.

Though the characters of Gabriel and Adrienne are well-enacted, they're not quite as convincing, and a couple of late scenes involving one or the other--notably, they're never onstage together--feel like they were reached, perhaps still imperfectly, after numerous rewrites and adjustments. (This isn't a world premiere play, but rather recent.)

Yet--while I'll avoid any narrative details--Adrienne does add significantly to the considerations addressed in Cry It Out. 

Even for new parents who have the financial luxury not to have to return to work anytime soon, the choice isn't automatic, and shouldn't be seen by others as obvious.

And obviously, I won't reveal more about how this smart play unfolds, but the course it takes--in sometimes realistically ambiguous ways--only enhances my appreciation and recommendation.

For whether it's about this specific topic or many others, there seems to be a universal truth in choices not always being entirely up to us, and that sometimes there really isn't a right or wrong answer.

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