Dorset's `Cry It Out' an early summer hit

Acclaimed new play on motherhood is more than just a fill-in

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DORSET — If Dorset Theatre Festival's opening show of the summer, Molly Smith Metzler's "Cry It Out," was intended to be a fill-in for Judd Hirsch and "I'm Not Rappaport," you could have fooled everyone in the capacity audience when it opened this past week.

The play, directed by Marc Masterson, is an early-summer must-see, and has a little bit of something for everyone when it comes to motherhood, social strata, and perhaps most importantly, basic humanity.

The play, which has recently earned the Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Citation, is having its East Coast premiere, and is a funny look at the dilemma of returning to work after child birth, and how class impacts parenthood and friendship.

We are in suburban Long Island, in Port Washington, with attorney-on-leave Jessie (Clea Alsip) not being able to find any other mom friends in her new Long Island neighborhood. But then she and the rollicking working class Lina (Andrea Syglowski) start sneaking out for coffee between their duplexes during nap times.

When well-heeled neighbor Mitchell (Greg Keller) and his equally loaded wife Adrienne (Janie Brookshire) come down from the hill, the comedy of new parenthood takes on a new light — yet always with a thoughtful backdrop.

Director Masterson had his actors ready to play, and they were aided by Metzler's superb character development of four distinct figures which pulled us every which way, and very purposely, at that.

Brookshire made Adrienne as unlikable as she could, while skillfully leaving the door open for a trace of our empathy to walk back through. It wasn't a wide gap, but it was just enough to show that even the driven and self-absorbed among us have human cracks in the walls they erect around their person.

As the play's only male character, Keller's Mitchell was perfect for what Metzler set before him: He was at once nervous and insecure, yet also yearning for something he inherently grasped he could not have high up in his One-Percenter McMansion on the cliffs. He gingerly navigated the minefield of a very precarious front where no-man's land seemed to be missing, and the three female characters never let him forget it.

Alsip was masterful, and the emotional push and pull of the story centered on a very difficult decision she had to muster up the courage to make. As her Jessie slowly grew comfortable with simple yet beautiful motherhood away from her Manhattan law firm, Alsip exquisitely projected one of the great issues that many mothers just don't have a choice on: work or stay home.

Finally, is there a role that Andrea Syglowski can't play? The versatile thespian wowed Dorset audiences a few seasons back as iconic poet Elizabeth Bishop in Sarah Ruhl's "Dear Elizabeth," about as deep and serious as playing an historical figure gets.

Yet as the blue-collar, foul-mouthed Lina, she crosses over from upper-crust elite, and right down into the trenches. Syglowski has an innate sense of comedic timing, and thus delivered the play's funniest lines — and physical comedy — by making us laugh but not letting us get too complacent. Bravo madam!

The play doesn't drag, running a crisp 90 minutes with no intermission.

David L. Arsenault's set was breathtaking from the moment one walks in to their seats. The cramped backyard complete with hillside was surreal, practical, and set the stage for the class divisions to come.

Michael Giannitti has spoiled Dorset audiences with his sublime lighting designs, and sound by Sinan Refik Zafar enriched the story's backdrop. Sydney Maresca's costumes were excellent statements on the social status of the characters, and the show was capably stage managed by Carolyn Richer.

The poet E.E. Cummings once famously wrote that "if there are any heavens my mother will (all by herself) have one." Metzler's story is a contemporary salute to that notion, in that motherhood is a multi-faceted human experience that can bring out the best and worst instincts, but that often requires soul searching, patience, stamina, and courage unlike anything else life puts in front of us.

Being a mother isn't easy, and not all succeed at it — however that's measured. But the actors in "Cry It Out" take all of that to a visceral level, all while never losing their ability to deliver the good on the comedic slice.

Pretty darn excellent for a group asked to fill in and put on this production on very short notice — much like a mother would be ready to do for her child, for just about anything.

"Cry it Out" by Molly Smith Metzler, is directed by Marc Masterson will run through July 14. Dorset Theatre Festival is located at 104 Cheney Road, Dorset. Info and tickets: 802-867-2223 x101, or dorsettheatrefestival.org

Telly Halkias is a member of the American Theatre Critics Assn. (ATCA), and a longtime regional drama critic. Email: tchalkias@aol.com. Twitter: @TellyHalkias

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