Need a play to see with your bestie? The newest production from Austin’s Theatre en Bloc is the regional premiere of Molly Smith Metzler’s Cry It Out, a play about “the absurdities of being home with a baby, the power of female friendship, the dilemma of going back to work, and the effect class has on parenthood in America”—all incredibly timely issues. We spoke to director Lily Wolff in order to unpack some of the play’s deeper layers.
This play focuses on motherhood, both the highs and the lows. How does it approach that topic in a way we don't often see in popular culture?
This play is about friendship as much as it is about being a mom. These characters are lonely, just like (let's face it) most of us are—we live in an isolating society. It's hard to walk up to someone and ask them to be your friend. It's hard to meet new people as a working/parenting/married adult. As an adult, period. It's about being brave enough, strong enough, vulnerable enough (desperate enough!) to ask for what you need from the strangers around you. These moms (and dads) are struggling, and that struggle isn't glossed over or made palatable for public consumption. I feel, for women (and moms especially), there's an immense amount of pressure to be pleasing and perfect at all times. The play totally rejects that.
How do you think this play relates to current debates in our culture about motherhood and related topics such as abortion, maternity leave and postpartum depression?
It's brutal the way we abandon women after they've given birth. And, in all transparency, a lot of that is missing from this narrative. Black mothers suffer disproportionately, the U.S. is ranked the worst developed country in the world for postpartum care, and that's all before we actually have to deal with salary-decimating childcare costs, drastically insufficient parental leave, the challenge of keeping kids healthy and insured, hoping they don't get shot at school and saddling them with crippling student debt. I mean, what the hell are we doing? We really screw over women in this country. I have several friends around the world who are completely gob-smacked by what it takes to raise a child in America. This is just a story about four pretty privileged parents who live on Long Island, but it speaks to the dissonance of our policies and our values, and the shameful hypocrisy at its core.
This seems to be a very female-driven project, with women behind the scenes in a majority of the roles and three fourths of the cast consisting of women. Did that create a rehearsal environment—and ultimately a production—that differs from what you've experienced in the past?
I'm interested in work that puts women at the center. As I've been given more opportunities to pitch projects and assemble teams, I have more say in representation and getting women in the room. Although to be clear, on this production [producing artistic director] Jenny Lavery has been a huge part of that and has lead the way for a long time. It has to be a conscious artistic choice. I think the women on this project, in particular, are all incredibly mindful about making space for each other in the process, which I value immensely both in artistic collaboration and in day-to-day life. Rather than finding space or taking space, there's a culture of offering it to each other. It's a great way to make work and I think you can see that in the final product.
Is there anything else you'd like audiences to know coming in to Cry It Out?
Come ready to laugh with us! And shake off your ideas about who this play might be for. This is a play about friendship. Especially friendship between women. That's what drives the narrative. It's so refreshing to see that celebrated on-stage, to have female friendship at the core of a story, rather than a romantic relationship. Got a really great friend? Miss a really great friend? Need a really great friend? Cry It Out will speak to you.