By Karen Isaacs
New motherhood – particularly first time motherhood – is a challenge for all women. From the audience reactions, it’s clear that Cry It Out now at Hartford Stage through Sunday, Nov. 17 has managed to illuminate all the challenges which most of the audience recognized.
From the isolation of being home with a newborn (particularly in cooler weather), the uncertainties that you are doing a good job, the lack of adult interaction, the limited time for oneself to even take a shower or read a magazine, right up to the dread of going back to work and leaving the infant with someone else plus the hormonal readjustment, it is amazing more women don’t have breakdowns..
The play by Molly Smith Metzler features three very different women. The two main characters, Jessie and Lina, appear to have little in common except that each has a newborn and they live very near each other in Port Washington on Long Island. They start meeting for coffee in the backyard of Jessie’s duplex townhouse. Lina lives in the nearby apartment building with her partner in his mother’s apartment.
Lina is a Jersey girl – loud, brash who will go back to an “entry level” job as she describes it at a local hospital. She has just 7 weeks of leave. Her partner’s mother will watch Max. Jessie, on the other hand is a lawyer in a NYC law firm; her husband is successful and his family lives in one of the high rent areas of the town. She has 12 weeks of maternity leave and her in-laws have already pulled strings to get Allison, her daughter into the best childcare facility in the town.
These two women bond over coffee and baby monitors. Watching the two determine the range of each monitor elicited laughs from the audience. As did the discussion of the show of going to the local supermarket. They talk and we learn more about them and their concerns. Lina doesn’t like living with Yolanda, her partner’s mother; the woman drinks. Yet we get a picture of a couple that may not be married but are on the same page.
Jessie and Nate are showing some schisms in the relationship. He has a financial plan that he is determined to fulfill. The duplex will become a rental property, they will move to a big house in the very tony neighborhood above theirs and, he wants to buy the cottage in Montauk next to his parents. Jessie, is beginning to think that she doesn’t want to go back to work, but be a stay-at-home mother despite the financial sacrifices.
One day, a well-dressed man stops by on his way to the train to NYC and his office. He lives in that deluxe neighborhood that overlooks their yards and he has observed them. He asks them to invite his wife, Adrienne to have coffee with them. They too have a newborn.
The meeting is a disaster. Adrienne doesn’t want to be there and is totally uncomfortable with their “mommy” chat. She is a jewelry designer who has just gotten the opportunity to put her merchandise into Tiffany’s. The nanny takes care of Livia, their young daughter.
But Mitchell stops back and we learn more about their relationship; Adrienne is upset with Jessie and tells her that not everything is as Mitchel portrays it.
Metzler’s play has some flaws. It’s a little too convenient to have three mothers not only in such different economic and educational circumstances but also to have such different feelings about motherhood. The play also suffers from the absence of either of the other two fathers, particularly Nate, Jessie’s husband. We are left to her view of him rather than being to judge him on our own. It is not a very flattering one.
Watching the play, it is clear that no matter what choice a mother makes – to stay home, go back to work for economic necessity, to work because she wants to, to have help at home – she will be judged and blamed. Some part of the population will view her choices and actions as wrong and even harmful to the baby. Not giving herself one thousand percent to motherhood will be judged as cold and selfish.
Yet, few fathers are judged as strongly. Most are praised if they participate in a late night diaper change or stay home with a sick child. Gender roles when it comes to parenting are alive and well in the U.S.
Rachel Alderman, artistic associate at Hartford Stage has done an excellent job directing the play. She makes sure these points are clear and perhaps because she is also a working mother, it is very clear the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” judgements that women face.
Even other mothers make judgements, as Jessie does with Adrienne, played by Caroline Kinsolving.
Rachel Spencer Hewitt is excellent as Jessie – concerned, caring and thoughtful and Evelyn Spahr projects Lina’s brashness, toughness and survivor instinct.
The set by Kristen Robinson is very bare. While we see shadows of the apartment building and the door to Jessie’s house, the yard is so bare that it looks abandoned; dirt and a very tiny play set is all that is there. Also questionable was the rain affect that opens the play.
Cry It Out isn’t a great play, but it is effective and it does partially illuminate the issues new mothers face in our society.
For tickets visit Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.
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