Baby Talk

Baby Talk

Laughter outshines tears in the New Haven Theater Company’s production of Cry It Out, at least for anyone who has ever given birth to or cared for a baby. The title of Molly Smith Metzler’s play comes from the infamous Ferber method of teaching infants to sleep through the night by letting them “cry it out” instead of depending on a parent to pick them up and soothe them.

We learn early on where two neighbor moms stand on that topic. Jessie, an attorney who’s staying home indefinitely with her baby, is thinking about using the method. Her new friend and next door neighbor Lina, home on a short maternity leave because her family situation requires her to get right back to work, shoots down the Ferber idea. Jessie’s “Why?” raises a typically wry response from Lina: “Because I don’t hate babies!”

When we first meet them, Lina and Jessie seem an odd couple. Lina is South Shore (Long Island, that is), brash and funny, a recovering alcoholic living on the financial edge. Jessie is Manhattan, brainy and earnest, a privileged mom with options. But the two become fast friends, and the chemistry between actresses Jenny Schuck, as Jessie, and Deena Nicol-Blifford, as Lina, gives this production its polish.

As it turns out, Jessie isn’t the real face of privilege. That role belongs to Adrienne (Melissa Andersen), another new mother, who literally looks down on them from her mansion on the hill along with her well-meaning but somewhat clueless husband Mitchell (Ruben Ortiz). Their insertion into Lina and Jessie’s mutual-support coffee klatch spills everyone’s barely contained angst.

By the middle of the show, the vapid kiddie soundtrack playing between scenes begins to hint at deeper truths behind its rainbows-and-starlight lyrics. Things are getting a little too real, despite Lina and Jessie’s attempts to keep their fears and regrets and insecurities in check with French vanilla coffee and breastfeeding jokes. Adrienne, meanwhile, isn’t playing along. The word she uses to describe her own emotions is “fury.” It’s the adults, we realize, who find themselves crying it out, and they can’t seem to make it all better.

While naptime, baby poop and postpartum depression dominate the surface conversation (warning: this is not a first-date play), Cry It Out is as much about class as it is about new parenthood. Playwright Metzler’s script slyly comments on complex social dynamics without pointing to them explicitly, and several times she skillfully sidesteps easy plot choices in favor of unexpected but ultimately more honest ones.

Community theater could be a tough sell in New Haven, where Broadway touring companies and Yale drama school luminaries are constantly on offer. But the New Haven Theater Company—whose shows this week are sold out, explaining the recent scheduling of two more shows next week—is smart. They choose compact productions that suit their small company, and everyone pitches in. Marty Tucker, who directed Cry It Out, starred in the last NHTC show I saw, and three of the actors list directing credits as well. But you’re just as likely to find the star of the last show taking tickets or setting props.

This intimate show plays well in NHTC’s intimate theater in the back of EBM & Civvies Vintage at 839 Chapel Street, where you can browse the shop and sip some wine before the performance. The theater itself seats just enough people to make you feel like part of an audience, in which you may find you’re all in this together–for the many laughs and, possibly, a few tears.

Cry It Out
presented by the New Haven Theater Company
EBM & Civvies Vintage – 839 Chapel Street, New Haven (map)
Performances through 3/9/24
NHTC Website | Tickets

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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