Lina and Jessie are losing their minds.
It’s only been a couple of weeks but that’s a long time when you’re a prisoner. There’s the sleep deprivation, the isolation, the bodily fluids, the constant demands of their captors at all hours of the day and night. They can barely remember the lives they once lived: the freedom, the agency.
Lina and Jessie are new moms.
That’s the setup and initial trap of Molly Smith Metzler’s beautiful play “Cry It Out.”
The opening scene is Lina and Jessie’s first coffee date in their backyard - they’re neighbors. Their first task is to determine the exact range of their baby monitors. They find the narrow, narrow swath of space where they can walk away from the baby and still get coverage: the precious space where they can co-exist in their roles as primary caregiver and human being.
They’re desperate for connection, for a voice that understands what having a newborn is like. It’s not just the breastfeeding and diapers, it’s that a trip to Stop’n’Shop is like an oasis of normalcy. Their partners are no real help - they still exist in that other world with real jobs in the outside world. Only Lina and Jessie really get it.
After the first couple of scenes, it’s easy to think you’ve got a hold on “Cry It Out,” assuming this is going to be a well-observed funny portrait of the trials of a new moms. But if you listen closely, you’ll notice the first fissures that open up to a more complicated play.
They’re subtle at first, little markers of class that separate the two woman at just the moment they’re bonding. Lina’s isn’t married and is staying at her boyfriend’s mom’s rented place . Jessie owns and is a lawyer from the city. Just to complicate matters, their rich neighbor Mitchell, from up on the cliff, nervously intrudes to ask if his wife can join their little coffee klatch. She’s having a difficult time of it too but in a completely different way.
Like the two women mapping the yard, you begin to grasp the territory. Lurking in the background is the terrifying question that will drive the play - who’s going to take care of my child?
Yes, this is a play about new mothers but because child-rearing is inextricably linked to privilege and class it becomes about much, much more than that. To say this is play that could only be written by a women is like saying only a woman can give birth - both overly simplistic and more complicated than we can fully grasp.
“Cry It Out” is a play about the chasms in our culture between our expectations and our realities; between what we expect of a mother and what we allow. It’s a play that looks at how the primal realities of being a mom conflict with the economic demands of being a woman in the 21st century. Regardless of your politics or parenting philosophy - it’s heartbreaking and undeniably human.
This is a production you need to see. The cast is phenomenal; the direction and design elegant and clear - it’s a beautiful 90 minutes. Just don’t blame me if you walk out a sobbing mess and it opens up deep questions about what it means to be a mom today.
“Cry It Out” plays at the Echo Theater Company in Atwater Village through August 19th.