Martha Brigham, left, and Lauren English are excellent in Just Theater’s “Cry It Out” onstage at Custom Made Theater. (Courtesy Jay Yamada)

‘Cry It Out’ addresses new mother work-life balance

Molly Smith Metzler’s humorous play could dig deeper

The women in Just Theater’s production of Molly Smith Metzler’s recent play “Cry It Out” are troubled by much more than whether the best method for sleep-training newborns is to let them “cry it out.”

The main character, Jessie, played by a luminous Lauren English, leans toward that strict approach, while working-class Lina, a funny, tough Martha Brigham, opposes it — “because I don’t hate babies!” she says. But that doesn’t interfere with their sudden and intense friendship.

The two new mothers, also new neighbors in suburban Long Island, meet-awkward on Jessie’s backyard patio for coffee but immediately bond despite their class differences. Jessie’s an attorney whose husband grew up wealthy; Lina and her baby-daddy both have low-paying jobs.

Both face challenges endemic to our social structure. Lina is steeling herself to go back to work all too soon and dreads leaving her baby with her alcoholic mother-in-law; Jessie says she wants to be a stay-at-home mother even if it means sacrificing her burgeoning career.

Both agree that it’s best for baby if Mom stays home during baby’s infancy, although Jessie might be waffling.

Into the mix comes a couple, also new parents, from up on the hill. They can afford to hire a nanny with a master’s degree in early childhood education.

But Mitchell (an overly cartoony Justin DuPuis), as he confesses to Jessie privately, worries that Adrienne (a wonderfully rageful Lauren Spencer) isn’t bonding with their baby.

Meanwhile, Adrienne, who wants nothing more than to continue her successful career as a jewelry designer, is furious that other career women (like Jessie) are opting out of the working world. Her husband, she rages, thinks she’s a “cruel mother” for not wanting to spend her days “staring at some baby monitor like it’s a lava lamp.”

The relationships among the four characters — set within the context of a society that does not provide adequate economic support for new mothers — and the obstacles each faces are well worth exploring, and Metzler, with a light and often humorous touch, makes us care about all four.

And under Just Theater co-artistic director Molly Aaronson-Gelb’s carefully calibrated direction, the issues come into full focus.

But in presenting four different parents with four separate sets of personal baggage and circumstances, each one inevitably gets short shrift. I would have liked fewer cute witticisms and cozy post-partum confessions in Jessie and Lina’s getting-to-know-you scene and a more in-depth look at each of the intriguing characters.

REVIEW

Cry It Out

Presented by Just Theater

Where: Custom Made Theater, 533 Sutter St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 1

Tickets: $25

Contact: www.justtheaterorg

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