Motherhood conversations ring true in Northlight’s funny, emotional ‘Cry It Out’

SHARE Motherhood conversations ring true in Northlight’s funny, emotional ‘Cry It Out’
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Gabriel Ruiz and Darci Nalepa in a scene from “Cry It Out” at Northlight Theatre. | Michael Brosilow

Memo to new dads: You don’t deserve a cookie or a gold star just because you decide to take paternity leave. Especially if you are able to take it while still drawing a full salary that pays for a full-time nanny, cook, family assistant and a hilltop mansion near the ocean.

‘Cry It Out’ ★★★ When: Through June 17 Where: Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd., Skokie Tickets: $15-$81 Info: northlight.org Run time: 90 minutes, no intermission

This seems to come as a surprise to Mitchell (Gabriel Ruiz), the wealthy new dad in “Cry It Out,” Molly Smith Metzler’s comedy now enjoying its Chicago premiere at Northlight Theatre. He beams with button-bursting pride telling new mom Jessie (Darci Nalepa) he’s going to be a stay-at-home-dad. Mitchell owns his company. Jessie can’t even get unpaid leave. He deflates into a confused pout when Jessie doesn’t fawn over what an extraordinary father he is.

Metzler doesn’t hold back depicting the blatant inequities of a system where some new parents can stay home indefinitely with babies and others face penury if they don’t get back to work before the placenta cools. But “Cry It Out” is about more than the socio-economics or the gender politics of maternity/paternity leave.

In 90 minutes, director Jessica Fisch creates a vivid, specific portrayal of the joys and hair-tearing, mind-numbing agonies – mental, physical and financial – many new mothers face. If you loved the movie “Waitress” (it ends as a new mom veritably glows with the miraculous realization that she has found her life’s one, true purpose.), you’ll probably be alarmed — and grossed out — by “Cry It Out.” It’s a story of love, but it’s also about anger, stress, unfairness, loss and the ravages of breastfeeding.

In Jesse’s post-baby new world, (Nalepa is ardently convincing as a woman overcome with maternal love and all-but unbearable stress), a trip to the grocery store is big excitement, and woe unto the well-meaning husband who deprives her of that singular escape by doing the shopping on his way home from work.

Darci Nalepa and Laura Lapidus star as two new mothers sorting out their lives in “Cry It Out” at Northlight Theatre. | Michael Brosilow

Darci Nalepa and Laura Lapidus star as two new mothers sorting out their lives in “Cry It Out” at Northlight Theatre. | Michael Brosilow

When Jesse invites neighbor and fellow new mom Lina (Laura Lapidus) in for coffee, it’s not so much an act of friendship as it is an act of sheer desperation. “In” is the wrong word. Jesse and Lina have coffee in a quadrant of Jesse’s backyard. They can’t go more than a few steps in any direction, or they’ll lose the signal on their baby monitors. Nevertheless, their friendship persists.

Enter Mitchell at the yard’s chain link fence (set designer Andrew Boyce has crafted a remarkably realistic working-class duplex exterior). When Mitchell starts making small talk, the women rightly look at him like he’s from outer-space. He lives in the mansion on the hill, Mitchell tells them, and he’s been looking down on them. In Ruiz’s genial performance, Mitchell is oblivious to both the creepiness of the statement and its class implications.

Mitchell is also a new parent, and he’s worried about his wife’s mental well-being since giving birth. She’s lonely, Mitchell says. She needs friends. But when his wife Adrienne (Kristina Valada-Viars) shows up to have coffee with Jessie and Lina, she’s cold enough to give them both freezer burn. She’s furious that her husband has basically sent her on a play date.

With each well-crafted scene, Metzler reveals new layers to her four characters. Adrienne’s final monologue (delivered with dragon-like savagery by Valada-Viars) is scathing and heartbreaking. Odds are, you’ll dismiss Adrienne early as a monstrous bitch. By the close, you realize how unfair that judgment is.

By contrast, Ruiz’ genial Mitchell is easy to like. Ruiz’ makes Mitchell the kind of guy we’d all like to befriend while subtly pointing to the fact we’re conditioned to see dads like Mitch as paragons of fatherly sacrifice. Everyone knows that when a woman gets up for a 3 a.m. feeding, she’s just doing her job. When a man like Mitchell does it? He’s a damn superhero.

Lapidus and Nalepa’s rapport makes Lina and Jesse’s friendship touchingly genuine – they’re irreverent and bracingly honest about what’s become of their bodies and their lives. Each is on the receiving end of a cruel, formidable blow in the latter half of the play, and their anguish wrenching.

You could argue that “Cry It Out” ends with a whimper rather than a bang. It doesn’t matter. Metzler speaks compelling volumes throughout.

Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.

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