It’s a bigger theatre with, presumably, a much bigger budget, but the plusses and minuses I noted about Molly Smith Metzler’s modern moms dramedy, “Cry It Out”, in its world premiere at Ridgefield’s tiny Thrown Stone Theatre last July, remain in its much more lavish production currently delighting patrons at Hartford Stage. The play, directed by Rachel Alderman, looks like it’s going to be a crowd-pleaser for the theatre and, while I still have issues with the writing, the casting in Hartford could not be better.
Set in a bucolic backyard in Port Washington, New York, “Cry It Out” throws together new moms Jessie (Rachel Spencer Hewitt, wonderful) and Lina (Evelyn Spahr) who live in neighboring duplexes and become fast friends after a meeting at the food store. As in endless television sitcoms and Neil Simon comedies, this odd couple soon bond over common problems of babies and marital issues. Jessie is a high-end attorney on maternity leave with a wealthy husband and Lina, living with the father of her child and his alcoholic mother, is straight from “Jersey Shore” and on break from her entry level job at the local hospital.
Timely topics of motherhood, economics and the expectations of women in the workplace are explored with a fair amount of seriousness in Metzler’s script even as she relies heavily on stereotypes (that Jersey mom!) and a surplus of pop cultural references (I counted at least a dozen film references). It doesn’t mean the play isn’t often very funny and even, by curtain, quite moving. But the significance of the topic needs more gravity in the writing and that’s not always the case in “Cry It Out”.
Luckily, the lead women in Hartford fill in most of the gaps. Hewitt is splendid in the less-flashy role, generating warmth and resilience while sharing a highly charged chemistry with Spahr who lands every punchline with the timing of a professional stand-up comic. In secondary roles that seem, at times, like filler for a play that doesn’t need more, Erin Gann does well playing an upscale dad concerned about a wife displaying signs of postpartum depression. As that wife, Caroline Kinsolving is a force of nature in just a few effective and surprising scenes.
The detailing of Kristen Robinson’s realistic backyard setting is impressive though why she chose to have it all on a raised platform with no ramp or stair access is a puzzlement. Pity the poor actor who has to push a baby stroller on stage and then have to haul it up onto the platform. There is also a totally unnecessary rain effect before the play begins that ends up distractingly dripping throughout the remaining 90 minutes. Lighting (Matthew Richards), costumes (Blair Gulledge) and sound (Karin Graybash) are all of the high level we’ve come to expect at Hartford Stage. In all, I have no doubt “Cry It Out” will appeal to many theatregoers, especially woman who have been through the baby mill and the rigors of parenthood.
“Cry It Out” continues at Hartford Stage through November 17. For ticket reservations or further information call: 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor and resident critic of WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.