Voices Carry in Cry It Out

New mothers bond in Molly Smith Metzler’s comedy — through Sept. 1 at the Custom Made Theatre.

L to R: Justin DuPuis as Mitchell, Lauren English as Jesse (Jay Yamada)

The women in Molly Smith Metzler’s Cry It Out aren’t losing sleep at night because of their newborn babies. After they give birth, their personal and professional identities are in a state of flux. Jesse’s (Lauren English) maternity leave is about to end. She’s conflicted about going back to work at her law firm. Adrienne (Lauren Spencer) has just scored a deal with a company that will distribute her jewelry line across the country. And Lina (Martha Brigham) doesn’t want to go back to her job as a nurse’s assistant but she can’t afford to stay at home. 

Metzler’s comedy conveys the subtle and the less-than-subtle shifts in their moods, marriages and the way they relate to the world after becoming moms for the first time. In the opening scene, the playwright arranges a meeting between Jesse and Lina. They’re about to start a coffee klatsch for two in Jesse’s backyard. It’s the midway point between their homes, where the baby monitors still register the sound of their babies’ voices. Jesse and her husband recently bought the duplex next door to the house in which Lina’s husband grew up. The playwright makes it clear that they’re from different socioeconomic backgrounds — and that it doesn’t prevent them from bonding. 

Despite the effort it takes to get out of the house with an infant, they joke about what a relief it is to run errands. Both women love being mothers but they commiserate about how isolating it can be. In their exchanges, Metzler demonstrates a knack for the rhythms of colloquial speech. But over the course of the play, she writes a series of great comic retorts for Lina. Brigham does such good work in this role. She delivers her lines wryly but her voice is infused with the character’s rough and rocky history. Lina and her husband are both recovering alcoholics. They’re living with her mother-in-law, who’s a practicing alcoholic, until they can save up enough money for a down payment on a place of their own. 

Last year in Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land at Shotgun Players, I compared Brigham’s performance as a pregnant teenager to Elizabeth Marvel and Jane Alexander. As Lina, she reminded me of Annabella Sciorra and Marisa Tomei. That’s an impressive range. Part of the play’s program note about Brigham reads, “She wants to thank the Bay for opening up their hearts and their art to her. She’ll be moving to Los Angeles in September.” Cry It Out then might be your final opportunity to see such a funny, tough and sympathetic actor on stage before her lucky stars line up with the ones in Hollywood. 

As Jesse and Lina’s friendship develops, Adrienne’s husband Mitchell (Justin Dupuis) interrupts one of their afternoon idylls (Mitchell’s the only husband we meet). He and Adrienne live in the tony community on the hillside above their neighborhood. He confesses, in short order, that he’s been spying on their get togethers, and that he’s concerned about his wife. Mitchell asks if they wouldn’t mind inviting Adrienne over for coffee. Jesse, who’s more trusting than Lina, takes pity on the overwrought Mitchell and agrees to invite her.

When Adrienne arrives the next day, she replies to her hosts’ questions with monosyllabic answers. She’s cold — and then rude — before she abruptly leaves. Metzler adds Adrienne to the mix to offer a third version of motherhood. Mitchell drops by Jesse’s house to apologize for his wife’s behavior. They come to the conclusion that Adrienne’s suffering from postpartum depression. Enraged at the idea, she confronts Jesse and corrects that misapprehension. She tells her that she loves her baby as much as Jesse and Lina love theirs. But she doesn’t share Jesse’s ambivalence about her corporate job. What she’s not willing to do is give up her career just because she’s a mother. Adrienne’s right when she plangently wails at Jesse, no one’s asked her husband to put his ambitions aside when he became a father.          Cry It Out asks smart questions of its protagonists. The dilemmas these three women confront all felt vital and real. When Jesse wonders if she’s raising her daughter right, Metzler wisely doesn’t provide an easy answer. The playwright suggests that there isn’t one universal or correct way of being a mother in the 21st century. Jesse, Lina and Adrienne must come up with the solutions that suit their families best — without neglecting their own individual needs.

Cry It Out, through Sept. 1, a Just Theater production presented in association with Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St., $25-$40, 415-798-2682 or custommade.org 

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