Parenthood. The very idea can make people squirm with fear. It can also fill people with hope, or fond memories, or regrets. But for three women in Molly Smith Metzler’s play “Cry It Out,” it’s about change and how do they go forward with their lives immediately after having their first children.
Hartford Stage’s production of the play, directed by Rachel Alderman, and running through Nov. 17, has a near perfect design, but the performances and directing fall flat.
As I entered the theater, I was pleased to see that the use of the three-quarter thrust stage was utilized almost exactly as I imagined it. Kristen Robinson’s design is great, with the action taking place squarely in the thrust part of the stage. She captures the image of an unkempt backyard with faded patches of grass, weeds, and a small children’s play set that isn’t going to see any actual use by the child for at least a year as her age is still being counted in the weeks, not months. Two parallel backdrops, one with a door and the other a window, represent the homes of neighbors Lina (Evelyn Spahr) and Jessie (Rachel Spencer Hewitt).
The rain machine was unnecessary as it doesn’t really add anything outside of playing out a line in the first scene about sitting on wet furniture. It was something that could have been sufficiently represented with sound and lighting effects.
Jessie and Lina meet for the first time as the play begins, both having recently moved to Port Washington, New York to start their respective families. A friendship forms with the two women as they begin to commiserate with each other over the joys and trials of early motherhood.
Jessie wants to be a stay-at-home mom, but is afraid doing so may damage her marriage and their quality of life, and Lina frets over going back to work and leaving her son in the care of her alcoholic mother-in-law.
When Mitchell (Erin Gann), a wealthy neighbor from up the hill in the more posh part of the town pays a visit asking if the two would allow his wife, jewelry designer Adrienne (Caroline Kinsolving) to join them, perspectives, especially Jessie’s, get challenged.
The problem with “Cry It Out” is that the story never finds the depth of conflict that it has the potential to achieve. The premise works and the characters are interesting enough to get the story rolling, but it feels like Metzler doesn’t chase the conflict far enough to get into the meat of the characters’ stories.
Much of this probably has to do with length. “Cry It Out” is an economical 90 minutes. Most of the more dramatic moments happen off stage and we find out what happens after the fact. I don’t often think a play would benefit with being longer, but in this case I believe more would be better and introducing the other family members and showing their conflicts would have added to the depth of the play. “Cry It Out” also ends on what feels like an incomplete thought and there needs to be at least one more scene to conclude the play.
The performances are serviceable. I think that Alderman unnecessarily pulls the actors away from each other at times when more direct interaction would amplify their conflicts. I also feel that though there are good moments, particularly Hewitt in the final scene and Spahr’s annoyances with Kinsolving’s Lilith Sternin level of propriety as Adrienne, most of the performances stay surface level. I would have liked to see a greater degree of subtext by the actors. There is a bit of it between Hewitt and Gann where they bring a degree of sexual tension between Jessie and Mitchell, and Spahr gives an undercurrent of concern for her child while she is joking about charcuterie, but otherwise Hartford Stage’s “Cry It Out” doesn’t reach the depths of new motherhood that it should.
Cry It Out
Theater: Hartford Stage
Location: 50 Church St., Hartford
Production: Written by Molly Smith Metzler; Directed by Rachel Alderman; Scenic Design by Kristen Robinson; Costume Design by Blair Gulledge; Lighting Design by Matthew Richards; Sound Design by Karin Graybash
Show times: Evening: Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 p.m. Matinee: Saturday and Sunday 2 p.m. Schedule varies week to week.
Tickets: $20 to $95. Available online at www.hartfordstage.org, by phone at 860-527-5151, or at the box office
Lina Evelyn Spahr
Jessie Rachel Spencer Hewitt
Mitchell Erin Gann
Adrienne Caroline Kinsolving