Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of CRY IT OUT at Hartford Stage
THROUGH NOVEMBER 17th
When you hold your baby in your arms the first time, and you think of all the things you can say and do to influence him, it’s a tremendous responsibility. What you do with him can influence not only him, but everyone he meets and not for a day or a month or a year but for time and eternity. – Rose Kennedy
In principle, a woman can only experience the spring of new motherhood once. It’s a time unlike any other, filled with elation, hope, challenges, questions, and even fears; but in every conceivable way it is life-altering. What once mattered, may not matter anymore; what never mattered, may just become the thing of most importance. About twenty-three years ago, I was in that season and in the subsequent years, went on to birth three more incredible humans. Later adding three stepchildren to the mix, I now consider myself to be experienced, albeit imperfectly, and something of veteran of motherhood, if you will.
When I look back on that time, I can recall how truly perplexing it was. Pre-children, I’d earned my master’s degree in psychology, I was a practicing psychotherapist, and I even worked three shifts a week waiting tables to pad the bills. When I became pregnant, people asked if I planned to go back to work post-baby, and I always adamantly told them yes. Why wouldn’t I? I was a modern-day woman who still saw herself donning the power clothes (sans spit up) each day and carting the cherub to daycare. I’d be bringing home the bacon and frying it in the pan with one hand while (safely) holding the babe on the opposite hip.
But no one prepared me for what was to become a full-body takeover – a coup; an invasion; a dramatic, all-consuming, bolt-of-lightning that would soon hit my heart, my soul, and every single fiber of my being. It came in the form of a four-week-pre-term, five pound six-and-a-half-ounce bundle of pink squirming joy. All I can say is that I was done for…
Work? What’s that? Money? Who needs it? Status? Prestige? Nahhh.
Motherhood – I’d found my life’s purpose.
Anyone who calls themselves a parent (mother or father) – a loving, caring, and involved parent – can’t help but see themselves in any or all the characters in Molly Smith Metzler’s evocative work Cry It Out at Hartford Stage. On the surface, Cry It Out might seem to be a light piece; an emotional look at the early months of motherhood, riddled with the ups and downs of hormones, late night awakenings, breast milk leakage, reexamination of household finances, and the oft-beleaguered romantic dyad which has now become a complex and perplexing familial triad. But underneath, it is a candid look at one of the most important decisions anyone can make – how to raise our next generation.
In Port Washington, New York, neighbors Jessie and Lina find themselves fast friends. While their backgrounds couldn’t be more different, that is simply superficial. Underneath and where it matters most, they share a common bond; that of the all-consuming love for their babies. After bumping into each other in the grocery store, they realize how much they yearn to have someone who can share the ups and downs of their new life’s stage, to offer sage advice, a shoulder to cry on, and twice daily coffee breaks (yes, coffee is often what saves us in those one-eye-barely-open days).
Jessie is a corporate attorney who commutes to Manhattan and is up for partner. Lina is a reformed drug addict with a minimum wage-paying job at a hospital. Both have planned to return to work for different reasons; Jessie’s husband is a social climber who intends to make sure his family has everything his wealthy parents do. Lina’s new little family, on the other hand, is scraping by and needs to save every penny to get out of her significant other’s alcoholic mother’s house. Now, neither want to go back.
Soon the dynamic changes when Mitchell shows up one day asking if his wife and new mother Adrienne can join the little coffee klatch, although in truth, it may be he who wants the camaraderie. The aloof and caustic Adrienne is a high-powered jewelry designer who doesn’t seem to connect with her little one nor does she seem to care. At least that’s what her husband thinks. Before long, everyone is questioning their own realities, decisions, and attempting to make peace with the same.
Metzler has a keen handle not only on motherhood, but parenthood. Mitchell, who is the only male in the four-person cast, isn’t the only father in the story. Jessie and Lina’s husbands are very present, albeit not in the flesh. And while we may feel that in our current times that we have thrown out the antiquated and traditional notions of gender roles, leaving it to each of us as individuals to decide what is best for our families, we can’t always get away from biology and evolution. Some things are hard-wired in us. For many, myself included, parenthood hits us in ways we might never have expected.
Expertly directed by Muhlenberg College alum Rachel Alderman (I am also an alum), Rachel Spencer Hewitt as Jessie is spectacular. She’s so many things – warm, articulate, a devoted mom and friend, and more than a tad bit neurotic – and her chemistry with Evelyn Spahr as Jessie reminds me so much of my relationship with my own co-mom and BFF. Spahr is her complement; the yin to her yang, delighting with her foul-mouth, authenticity, and deep love for her son and everyone around her. The two are a friendship match made in mom heaven.
As the true third-wheel, Adrienne is proof positive that opposites don’t attract. Caroline Kinsolving nails it and she’s everything Jessie and Lina are not, but we soon learn there may be more beneath her hard, leather-garbed surface than meets the eye. Nevertheless, I can honestly say if she butted into my decades-past playgroups, I’d have been as rankled as these ladies were. Erin Gann is also excellent as Mitchell the greenhorn who may or may not understand his wife but loves his daughter and fully embraces his new role of dad.
With over-the-top moments, snappy dialogue, and well-crafted characters, there was no need for a grand set design. The clumps of leaf-littered grass and the Fisher Price playset are all that’s needed, designed by Kristen Robinson, which truly feels as if it’s a piece of someone’s backyard smack in the middle of the theatre. Blair Gulledge’s costume design is spot-on, suggesting every new mom’s limited attention to her own appearance in those early weeks and months. Kudos to Matthew Richards for lighting design; Karin Graybash for sound design; Shaila Schmidt as Dramaturg; and to the rest of the company.
Cry It Out is both engaging and enlightening. (And in case you’re wondering, like Lina, most psychologists believe letting your infant “cry it out” is toxic – it is simply uncomforted stress and therefore damaging to the infant brain. Babies require responsive parenting!) Whether you are considering parenting in your future, a parent-to-be, a young parent, or have some number of years under your belt, Cry It Out deftly illustrates the highs and lows of the inexperience and unfamiliarity of this new phase of life. Hartford Stage skillfully brings Metzler’s warm and wonderful work to laughter- and tear-filled life.
Cry It Out is not only the title of a play by Molly Smith Metzler which is currently making the rounds in regional theatres around the country, but it is also the name of a sleep-training method for infants wherein they are allowed to cry for some period of time in the hopes they will eventually soothe themselves. How long should a baby cry? Should there be increasing intervals during which the method is carried out? Does it work?
If you’re looking for the answers to these and other questions, you won’t find them here. Indeed, as the notes in the program state, this is a play where the ones who most need to cry it out are the new mothers “as they lack connection and support and confidence at the beginning of their parenting careers.”
I will disclose that when I was born, the “cry it out” method did not exist – certainly not in the way it does today. To completely date myself, my mother had me rather late in life and was one of the 50 million parents who back then purchased Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. She would often tell people that after I had German measles at 18 months, several bouts of pneumonia, chicken pox, astronomical fevers, unexplained bloody noses, and countless other maladies all before I was four, Dr. Spock’s book became fodder for the apartment building’s incinerator.
Nevertheless, even as a hands-on father (as my dad was), I can relate to the issues raised in the play. Yes, all parents can relate to the play, not just women who are new mothers. In fact, that is one of the major motifs of the play – that fathers can have strong feelings and instincts and, in many ways, can be just as involved, caring, and even frustrated by the myriad issues that may arise today vis-à-vis child rearing.
The play explores the dynamics of four individuals and their evolving relationships with their newborns – three mothers and a father. Each come from different social and economic strata, and presumably from different child-rearing backgrounds. Yet, each must grapple with the same, overriding issue: what is the best way to parent in today’s complex world? Does the one mother, Jessie, who was an attorney at a big law firm, go back to work or can she convince her business-minded husband that they can manage to raise a family if they downsize and live on one salary? The second mother, Lina, has no choice but to go back to work and has accepted her fate. What she hasn’t accepted is allowing her alcoholic mother-in-law to watch her child. The third mother, Adrienne, a well-known jewelry designer who, for reasons which are ambiguous to say the least, has not been able to connect with her newborn. Adrienne’s husband, Mitchell, is the only father we see in the play. He is envious of the time Jessie and Lina spend with their babies (as well as the time they spend together) and tries to integrate (and then ingratiate) both himself and his wife into their circle. It sounds like a soap opera – and to a large extent it is – a very engaging one.
As someone one who avoids pet stores like a plague because I will not be able to withstand the emotional trauma of walking away, I could never have let a baby “cry it out.” Obviously, that does not mean that the method is not viable. I am just not built that way. Being the father of an estranged son who lives with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, I certainly know what it is like for a parent to “cry it out,” except you are often forced to do it on the inside where no one can see.
I want to say that the issues in the play can all be resolved with money. Certainly, if Jessie and Lina had more money, it would seem that their initial stress and separation anxiety could be resolved since they would be able to spend the time with their newborns unhampered by the threat of not being able to properly care for their family in an appropriate fiscal manner. The Leave It to Beaver days of June Cleaver vacuuming while wearing a string of pearls as her husband Ward works to bring home the bacon are long gone, relics of the Baby Boom generation as with so many other things. But as Metzler deftly points out with the Adrienne-Mitchell couple, money is not the answer to everything – particularly where relationship issues are involved.
The acting is flawless. Rachel Spencer Hewitt is perfect as Jessie, the mother who must balance the scales of motherhood vs. a boring, plodding life as an attorney (I can say that since I am an attorney). Justice is indeed blind. Caroline Kinsolving as Adrienne shows her formidable acting chops with a layered performance as the seemingly emotionless mother. Erin Gann handily represents the empathetic fathers in most of us. A special shout-out must go to Evelyn Spahr who is knock-down-drag-out hysterical as Lina and steals every scene.
The play was ably and sensitively directed by Rachel Alderman, who kept a steady pacing and ample amount of comic relief through the sometimes-choppy waters of character and social conflict inherent in the play.
So, what is it better to do with respect to child training methods? To paraphrase Hamlet, “To cry it out or not to cry it out,” that is the question. Of course, the answer may be very different for adults.