It would be easy to dismiss “Cry It Out” as a Neil Simonesque festival of precision-engineered punchlines. But it would be wrong.
Yes, Molly Smith Metzler’s play is funny. Really, really funny. Its characters are new moms Jessie (Taous Claire Khazem) and Lina (Katie Consamus), trying to carve out a few moments for themselves and realizing, as Lina puts it, “we’re held hostage all day in dirty yoga pants by little larval creatures who would literally die if we checked our e-mail or took a leisurely dump.”
Metzler’s dialogue is quippy, profane and up-to-the-minute, including the first usage of “turnt” I’ve heard onstage. And the characters, measured Jessie and says-every-word-that-comes-into-her-head Lina, are fun to hang out with, even when — actually, especially when — they’re making the mistakes that inevitably come with a big new job that’s impossible to prepare for.
“Cry It Out” is set in Jessie’s backyard in suburban New York (you can practically smell the ragged grass on Joel Sass’ set, complete with shaker shingles on the house and un-raked leaves on the ground), where the women meet with baby monitors in hand. They also monitor neighbors Adrienne (Audrey Park) and Mitchell (Matt Wall), new parents whose wealth gives them a different set of problems.
Laying out those problems, Metzler reveals her subtle political agenda. “Cry It Out” is about maybe the most important job we have — raising our next generation — and about how little help we give the people doing that job. Both Jessie and Lina struggle with needing to return to work, and both take out their frustration by getting judgy with Adrienne, who returns to her demanding job not because she needs the money but because it’s an essential part of who she is. (Despite Park’s best efforts, Adrienne feels like more of a dramaturgical device than an actual character.)
Child care is a major topic in “Cry It Out,” and it provides the play’s most poignant moment: Lina, who has chosen the best of several bad options and left her infant son in the care of her mother-in-law, returns from work to find him neglected and alone. Consamus can turn on a dime from outrageously funny to heartbreaking, which is where she lands when she laments the fear she now worries has become a permanent part of her baby’s life.
Under Angela Timberman’s confident direction, “Cry It Out” navigates those shifts with warmth and humor. It gets at the loneliness of taking on a job that’s impossible to do perfectly, with Timberman identifying portions of the stage as each of the three moms’ home bases.
But it’s ultimately an optimistic play. Closing with a lovingly detailed speech about how Jessie would spend the perfect day with her daughter, “Cry It Out” reminds us that moms have been figuring out how to proceed for centuries. And that one of their best survival tactics is to laugh to keep from crying.
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