BY SANDY STAGGS
From Dr. Spock to Kim Kardashian, women have sought that advice and maternal communion with the like-absence-of-minded who can relate to the trappings and blessings of new motherhood.
That after-birth, so to speak, is the topic of a new play “Cry It Out” with a powerhouse cast at the Warehouse Theatre that’s raising eyebrows and the stakes on child-rearing and a whole lot more.
Scouted by Warehouse Producing Artistic Director Mike Sablone at the 2017 Humana Festival of New American Plays, this work by Molly Smith Metzler (who is also currently a writer/producer on Showtime’s “Shameless”) early on mines the obvious comedic tropes about pregnancy and the infancy phase: lack of sleep and primping; bonding with said newborn; paid and unpaid maternity and paternity leave; breast milk or formula?; two income household vs. one income household; working parent or stay-at-home parent?; coddling vs. the titular cry it out method; and breastfeeding and other bodily functions though conveyed with some measure of dignity.
Amanda Sox (“The Cake” “In the Next Room”) is Jessie, a former Manhattan corporate lawyer and mother of a three-month-old. She is desperate for conversation and companionship that does not include diaper changing, and through a chance encounter at their Long Island coffee ship finds such a kindred soul in Jessica Eckenrod’s Lina.
Though the ladies are from opposite shores so to speak with Lina – a working class gal from the South Shore of Long Island now living on the ritzier North Shore with her in-laws and newborn with ambitions of someday buying a home – as outsiders and mothers, they form a bond. Well, as much as their coveted brief daily coffee talks permit in the back yard outside their stoops.
It’s here director Rebekah Suellau has fun with her actors in expository encounters as the ladies humorously connect and recount their baby horror stories, relationships and their futures, all the while tethered to the limited range of their nursery monitors and resting uncomfortably on a plastic playset that has already been erected for a12 week old, whose upbringing and education has been pre-ordained by Jessie’s affluent in-laws who live in the mega-wealthy enclave in the hills above them.
And while no actual babies (dolls or otherwise) are actually seen in the play, they are omnipresent: we hear them on the nursery monitors, and they are shown as a bundle in a sling or obscured in a carriage.
Jessie is not a glamourous or eccentric role and Sox takes her time. Her less-is-more approach even-keeled steadiness pays off handsomely in the third act.
Eckenrod, known in the Upstate for her musical prowess (Effie in “Dreamgirls” Centre Stage, “Ragtime” Greenville Theatre), is actually making both her Warehouse and dramatic debut in “Cry It Out.” With just a whiff of the street-wise she embraced for “In the Heights” last summer on this same stage (Glow Lyric Theatre), her Lina is still edgy, but also trusting and vulnerable.
After a series of clever, intelligent, and realistic expository gal pal conversations, you may just wonder if this play is going to be a two-hander, when abruptly enters their private space (and ours) a frantic Jason D. Johnson as Mitchell, a neighbor who has been spying on their mom sessions from the hills above.
Johnson is Warehouse Theatre Managing Director, but this is his first stage role since Uncle Vanya, three seasons ago. And his comeback is with one of the most peculiar characters all season. Without divulging any spoilers, I am still undecided about Mitchell. His purpose in the play is to represent the male component to child rearing, the (less-common) paternal need to nourish and bond with children. And as “Cry It Out” demonstrates, women in the 21st century can earn as much bread and in some cases, more as their male partners. But what is Mitchell’s motivation?
“Cry It Out: begins as light comedy and just when you think you know where this is heading, you suddenly don’t. First Mitchell, and then his wife Adrienne, played by Miranda Barnett (Clybourne Park, Boeing Boeing, Vanya and Sonja and Masha and Spike). Recently experiences the joys of motherhood herself, Barnett may have the deepest pool of experience to draw from for her feature performance. And it shows. She rages in like a super storm with a razor-sharp (Sweeney Todd-suitable) fierceness and an explosive a Type A Personality speech that will leave you gasping for air.
Again, no spoilers, but I will say the playwright does challenge the audiences and the tone shifts dramatically when you least expect it. And you will be talking about this play on the ride home from the theatre.
Elizabeth Jarrett’s scenic design is extraordinarily innovative as well with hand- woven organic walls juxtaposed with the serene but artificial fantasy world outside with AstroTurf and a colorful plastic playset.
The amazing design team also includes Kevin Frazier (Lights), Elizabeth Gray (Costumes), Marc Gwinn (Sound), and Cassidy Bowles (Properties). Louise M Ochart returns as Stage Manager.
This show does contain language and adult themes and it is performed without an intermission.
“Cry It Out” continues through May 12 at The Warehouse Theatre, 44 Augusta St. in Greenville. For tickets, call (864) 235- 6948 or visit www.warehousetheatre.com.
You can also catch Ms. Eckenrod at The Warehouse on Monday & Tuesday, May 6-7 at 7:30 p.m. for her one-act musical “Herstory: How She Saw It” in collaboration with Glow Lyric Theatre. For tickets, visit http://www.glowlyric.com.
Featured Lobby Artist for the show is Marie Martelly. Her work can be found at https://www.mariemartelly.com/.