Courtesy of The Kitchen Theatre

February 9, 2020

Cry It Out: Maternity and What it Means to be a Feminist

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When I walked into The Kitchen Theatre on State Street to take in Molly Smith Metzler’s play, Cry It Out, directed by M. Bevin O’Gara, I never thought I would be leaving with puffy eyes, smudged mascara and a runny nose. I must preface this by saying that I am, in general, not one to fall prey to public displays of emotion.That being said, the theatre’s opening night production of this unique look at motherhood evoked within me a deeply moving sentiment.

Cry It Out focuses on the stories of two new moms, Jessie and Lena, played by Mikaela Izquierdo and Melissa Miller respectively, who are forced together by their close proximity as neighbors, and a mutual need to escape the percolating stir-craziness that comes with caring for newborns. The mothers share intimate details about their home life, all with a cup of coffee in one hand and a baby monitor in the other. The dialogue is free flowing and so wonderfully executed by the play’s leading ladies that I felt like a voyeur, witnessing the highs and lows of these women’s lives transpire before my eyes. The audience learns about Lena’s trouble at home, with a closeted-alcoholic mother-in-law who will eventually become her son’s primary caretaker when Lena returns to work as a hospital administrator. Also exposed is Jessie’s traumatic birth story, which has created a rift between her and her husband, who would never support Jessie’s choice to stay at home full time with her daughter instead of returning to her high-profile job as a New York City attorney.

The play takes an interesting turn when Jessie and Lena’s early morning coffee chats are infiltrated by a Wall Street suit named Mitchell, portrayed by Brian Sgambati. Mitchell — who is nothing more than a concerned husband — attempts to bribe the two mothers into allowing his wife, Adrienne, played by Erica Steinhagen, to join them during their talks. Mitchell explains to the two women that he has repeatedly caught his wife spying on the duo’s backyard rendezvous, and tells them that he is worried she is lonely.

Later that day, Adrienne arrives, armed with her iPad and an overwhelming air of sanctimony and bad attitude. Adrienne exudes “I don’t want to be here” vibes, from the moment the audience lays eyes on her. She is unwilling to engage in conversation despite Jessie and Lena’s best efforts. The contrast between the two founding members of mommy club and this new, business-oriented mother, is stark. The audience is set up to hate Adrienne. She is cold and unfeeling; even a desperate Mitchell admitted to Jessie that he had not seen his wife interact with the baby in weeks.

In Adrienne’s final scene, delivered by Steinhagen with convincing frustration that is archetypally feminine, it is revealed that she loves her baby but has found a way to compartmentalize that love in such a way that enables her to have a professional life outside of the nursery in the form of her highly successful jewelry brand. She emphasizes that some women cannot, and have no desire to, fit the traditional image of motherhood like Jessie or Lena, but that it’s “perfect” mothers like them who make career moms like Adrienne look bad.

The play’s performances were absolutely stunning. Each actor shined in their own way, with each one’s acting chops showcased at different points. Izquierdo took my breath away on numerous occasions, delivering a heartfelt and evocative performance. Her cadence when delivering the final line of the play is what sent me into total emotional upheaval; I could feel this character’s pain, her anguish that is unapologetically and wholly female. Miller similarly did a stunning job at maintaining a comedic sheen over subject matter that is truly quite dark. Her capacity for conveying the emotional attachment to her son and her character’s deep-seated anxieties and unconsolable sadnesses when she is forced to go back to work is unparalleled. Sgambati’s hilarious yet cutting portrayal of Mitchell made me fall in love with his character: I simultaneously wanted to hug him for his devotion to his daughter, and slap him for his obtuseness when it came to his wife’s professional wishes. Finally, Steinhagan’s performance as Adrienne climaxes when she delivers her character’s feminist manifesto to the professionally-inclined mother. Her performance was honest and biting in all the right ways.

Cry It Out was truly one of the best plays I have ever had the opportunity to see. The Kitchen Theatre has never failed to impress me, but this production in particular left me in awe. The simplicity with which they go about executing the set and costume design lends itself perfectly to a believable and ultimately heartbreaking story of motherhood, and, more deeply, womanhood. For so long, I felt the only feminism that existed was one that looked like Adrienne’s: unwavering, aggressive and ambitious. However, my mother, a feminist in her own right, always explained to me that wanting children and occupying the traditional role of mother can be feminist if it is an active choice. Cry It Out helped me finally understand this. Jessie’s choice to stay at home was a feminist one, because it was made independently. This choice was tactfully contrasted with her being forced into what any traditional feminist would see as the right choice: going back to work. However, because Jessie had no say in making this decision, it is yet another demonstration of how women’s voices are so often silenced. It is this seamlessly integrated social commentary, along with exemplary acting and writing, which makes Cry It Out a must-see for everyone, from the enthusiastic theatre buff to the disinterested cynic.

Cry It Out is playing until Feb. 22 at The Kitchen Theatre.

 

Madeline Rutowski is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at mjr444@cornell.edu.