Review: Cinnabar’s ‘Cry It Out’ delivers pitch-perfect performances
If you’re a parent, did you sleep-train your children when they were very young? Jessie thinks it’s probably a good idea (or at least, her husband does), but Lina disagrees. She’s not into it because “I don’t hate babies!” After all, she says, what kind of person leaves someone crying alone in the dark?
Playwright Molly Smith Metzler asks this and many other questions about the ‘right’ way to parent in the equally funny and moving ‘Cry It Out,’ now playing at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma. 21st century women are supposed to ‘have it all,’ but this comic drama makes clear that none of the choices facing modern mothers are easy, or settled.
Jessie (Ilana Niernberger) is a young professional woman with a new baby whose problematic and traumatizing birth has left her understandably reluctant to go back to work, despite pressure from her (unseen) husband whose future plans depend on Jessie’s salary. Lina (Amanda Vitiello) is Jessie’s neighbor, unmarried and living with her boyfriend, who doesn’t trust her boyfriend’s mother to look after her baby, but who can’t afford not to go back to work. Adrienne (Kelly Donnelly) is a wealthy, successful career woman who earns as much as her husband and sees no reason why she should have to give up her career to be with their child. Mitchell (Andrew Patton) is Adrienne’s husband, a man completely at sea in this world of new parenting, trying but failing to understand his wife’s perspective and fumblingly reaching out to Jessie and Lina for help.
Outstanding performances by both Niernberger and Vitiello, together with wonderful chemistry between them, bring heart and credibility to a script that is bursting with acute observations on the joys, stresses and terrors of new motherhood. Both actors are pitch-perfect and almost from the first sentence, it’s impossible not to lean into their conversation and find yourself sympathizing with them. Their burgeoning friendship, despite their different socio-economic circumstances, is built around the affirming bond that exists between new mothers who might otherwise themselves be crying alone in the dark.
Jessie and Lina’s shared understanding of motherhood is challenged by Adrienne, whose perspective is at right angles to theirs, but not without its own validity. Kelly Donnelly plays Adrienne as too unsympathetic initially for her views to have any real weight, but when she finally makes her feelings about motherhood clear, you are compelled to listen, though you might not like them. Andrew Patton does a good job at keeping Mitchell believable as the CEO of his own company, despite his indecisiveness and obvious discomfort at being thrust into the world of motherhood.
Under the guiding hands of director Molly Noble, ‘Cry It Out’ is perfectly paced and skillfully navigates between moments of high comedy and emotional punches that had female audience members audibly murmuring with recognition. Noble is also smart to run the show without an intermission; it really doesn’t need one and I was grateful that the theatre didn’t feel obliged to interrupt the flow of the action. Scene changes are punctuated with some nicely chosen and often amusing music clips, and the whole takes place against the backdrop of a well-designed, realistic-looking front yard.
If you’ve experienced motherhood, you’ll find plenty to laugh at in ‘Cry It Out,’ – much of it of the ‘better laugh than cry’ variety that you probably remember from those early days of trying to be the perfect mother. But when Jessie confesses to being lonely and overwhelmed, and when Lina cries that she wasn’t there for her child when she should have been, you’ll probably remember those feelings as well - and how it was the loyal friendship of other mothers that helped you cry it out, and laugh about it too.
‘Cry It Out’ plays at Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma until September 26. Running time is approximately 95 minutes with no intermission. Show times and tickets at https://cinnabartheater.org/