Set in the suburban Long Island backyard of corporate lawyer Jessie (Taous Claire Khazem), entry-level hospital administrator Lina (Katie Consamus), and successful jewelry designer Adrienne (Audrey Park) along with her husband Mitchell (Matt Wall), all share one thing in common: they are new parents. The central characters on stage are Jessie and Lina, who bond over daily coffee while they commiserate and wax poetic about their new children, their changed bodies, and this new chapter in their lives.
Right away the similarities and differences between two women are obvious. Jessie is seemingly more delicate with her mannerisms and speech. She and her husband have purchased their duplex (which is supposed to be an excellent investment), and he is anxious for her to return to work so that they can afford a vacation home in Montauk. Lina is loud, less formally educated, and lives with her boyfriend and his mother in a duplex that his mother has rented for over 30 years. While Jessie wonders throughout the play if she can afford to stay home full-time with her little girl, Lina never even entertains such a fantasy – she knows she cannot afford such a luxury. This doesn’t stop either women from fiercely loving their children, and their friendship, forged in the fire of change, feels sincere. I think this is one of the potential stumbling blocks the play sidesteps very well -- Jessie might think that she is slightly better than Lina, but the two do develop a real bond, sharing inside jokes and even cross-pollinating each other’s’ language. Playwright Molly Smith Metzler has done an excellent job of creating space for these characters to meet and making their “meet cute” in this town plausible. She has observed something that my mother has always said to me -- once you have a child, other women admit you into the Sorority of Women.
This bond is stressed and pushed to its limits by the addition of Mitchell and Adrienne. Unlike both Lina and Jessie, Adrienne has a full-time, live-in, nanny. She and her husband live in the much nicer houses on the bluff overlooking Lina and Jessie’s duplexes, and it is clear that they are much more wealthy than Jessie and her husband. Adrienne’s jewelry line has recently been picked up by Barney’s, and we find her working overtime to see the product line succeed. Mitchell worries that Adrienne is not bonding with their daughter, and wishes that she was more like the very affectionate and maternal Jessie.
Taous Claire Khazem and Katie Consamus have great repartee together, and make the growth of their friendship seem natural and very believable. Consamus’ Long Island accent is respectable, and while she certainly accentuates some of Lina’s funnier lines, she does a great job showing the cracks in the tough veneer. After a particularly troubling event occurs with her baby, Consamus’ mortified Lina seeks solace with Jessie, who scarcely knows how to comfort her friend. Consamus makes the audience love Lina, and her mannerisms (from the way she sits and tilts her head, to the way she stomps around the stage) are spot on without being reductive. Khazem leans into Jessie’s sweetness and slightly forced naiveté, which sets the stage nicely for Mitchell’s infatuation with her. I can imagine a version of this play were Jessie is a bit less sincere, but Khazem allows Jessie’s genuine caring to shine through without being saccharine. This is a tough ask, particularly for a culture that has been taught that there is something wrong with an ambitious woman who wants to care for her children. Together, this duo sells the show – kudos to director Angela Timberman for casting so well.
Wall’s performance picks up in the second half of the play, and his final monologue, which could almost be mistaken for a TED Talk, is deeply moving. His excellent delivery makes it all the more painful when you realize that the utopia he describes isn’t actually available for any of the women he is trying to befriend or care for. Audrey Park’s Adrienne isn’t in as many scenes as she could be (or as many as I would have liked!), but when she is on stage she steals the show. Very Cool (capital C) and almost cruel, Adrienne’s character arc will make you reassess your initial impression of her and interrogate the double standards that exist for men and women.
Yellow Tree Theatre has done a good job bringing this suburban backyard to life. From the water that inevitably pools in the Fisher Price toddler jungle gym to the patio furniture, the set feels almost real. That being said, some better stage direction was needed to make sure that the thrust stage doesn’t work against the actors. Seated far stage left, there were full scenes that I couldn’t see one or the other actresses’ faces at all. A bit more communication between set design and a more strategic placement of the patio chairs would have been welcomed by the audience seated all around the stage. However, this is a small critique for a performance that really got into the nuances of character.
This is easily one of the best plays I have seen this year – the book, the acting, and the ambiance work together beautifully. If you have a chance, make the short drive up to Osseo and see Cry It Out before it closes on May 12th.