Theater Review: CRY IT OUT (Echo Theater Company at Atwater Village Theatre in Los Angeles)

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by Tony Frankel on July 20, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


The term “cry it out” refers to the practice of letting babies bawl until their fit subsides without parents coddling and mollifying them; assumedly this causes the child to become more self-sufficient later in life. In Molly Smith Metzler’s persuasive west coast premiere, three adult women find themselves in desperate need to cry it out about the difficulties of child-rearing in our fast-paced, income-based world infused by a “you can have it all” mentality. Yet Cry It Out is about more than socio-economics; it’s a deep, detailed depiction of the delights and downfalls – mental, physical and financial – confronting new parents.

In a Long Island suburb, Jessie, feeling down due to a secluded existence caused by the constant care for her new baby girl, meets another new mom, Lina, at a local Stop & Shop. Since both of their husbands work long hours, they only have their infants as company. The two meet in their connecting yards to schmooze while their babies share nap time; their eventual friendship will be borne out of sheer desperation and location. In fact, if they move just a few feet too far from their coffee klatch, they’ll lose the signal on their baby monitors.

Their connection certainly doesn’t come from shared social worlds, except that they’re both on leave of absence. Ivy League Jessie, whose baby barely survived a traumatic birth — is a lawyer on her way to a partnership. Night school-educated Lina, who lives with her mother-in-law, is a funny, mouthy, raunchy, aggressive hospital admittance clerk.

The first half of this 95-minute one act is occupied with chat about their situation, griping about in-laws, husbands, boredom, and sharing concerns about the future. Deep into the play, Mitchell, a high-strung neighbor who lives in a mansion that can be seen on the nearby bluffs, arrives to inquire if the ladies will invite his wife Adrienne to their diurnal discussions; she’s having trouble with new motherhood, and perhaps meeting with peers will help get her out of her funk.

Adrienne, openly angry and blatantly rude, has only two scenes but they wildly oppose each other; raising the emotional heat of a fairly inert play. This makes an eventual emotional eruption all the more shocking because up until then the evening is a series of off-the-cuff exchanges between commonplace folks. Meltzer’s language is truthful and subtle; her strong script is infused with a seemingly shallow simplicity that hides considerable complexities. You might say that it’s a little calculated given the women’s differences in career: Adrienne wants to keep a career; Jessie wants to end her career; and Lina is forced to return to a career for money. And while the stakes are high for each, the very nature of the play doesn’t allow for a build (I wondered at one point that it wouldn’t help to have the off-stage husbands written as characters.)

Sympathetically directed by Lindsay Allbaugh for Echo Theater Company, these aren’t big issues, and a “third-act” scene between Jessie and Lina over separation anxiety will break your heart. Megan Ketch is the standout as brash Lina; with impeccable timing and a soft sting, Ketch’s comic flair will win you over. As the peace-keeping, people-pleasing Jessie, Jackie Chung nails the sweetness by emphasizing nuance over desperation. The always interesting Emily Swallow is fortunately a little scary behaving as hard as the jewelry her character designs. And while Brian Henderson’s manic behavior as Mitchell makes him appear mannered, a panic attack is positively palpable.

François-Pierre Couture fills Atwater Theatre’s wide space with an expanse of grass and a large backdrop painting of grey clouds that hint at the eternity and timelessness of being a parent (and look closely for that stashed clay pot substituting as a secret ashtray). The subtleties in the costumes can be overlooked because it’s all modern wear, but magician Ann Closs-Farley separates the characters by the simplest of touches in texture and fabric.

Metzler explores the joys and tribulations of motherhood, not the most profound or exotic topic for a drama – but this delicate work conveys a theme with variations that will certainly connect with those who have experienced the impact of a new baby on a household.

photos by Darrett Sanders

Cry It Out
The Echo Theater Company
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave
Fri & Sat at 8; Sun at 4; Mon at 8
ends on August 19, 2018
for tickets, call 310.307.3753
or visit Echo Theater

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