Get us in your inbox


Cost of Living

  • Theater, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
David Zayas and Katy Sullivan in Cost of Living on Broadway
Photograph: Courtesy Julieta CervantesCost of Living

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Broadway review by Adam Feldman

It is a curious yet somehow apt feature of the English language that the words caretaker and caregiver mean roughly the same thing. The fraught give-and-take involved in caring for—and about—other people is the central concern of Martyna Majok’s painfully humane drama Cost of Living, which juxtaposes a pair of stories about tending to the severely disabled. But physical ability is just one of the dividing lines in a play that is equally concerned with financial and emotional reliance.

For Jess (the vivid Kara Young), at least at first, the arrangement is purely professional: Already exhausted from juggling multiple jobs, she is hired by a wealthy and supercilious Princeton grad student, John (Gregg Mozgala), to help him bathe, dress and otherwise navigate the challenges of his cerebral palsy. For Eddie (David Zayas), an unemployed former truck driver, the stakes are more personal. When his estranged wife, Ani (a superbly caustic Katy Sullivan), is rendered quadriplegic by a car accident—losing the use of all but a few fingers on one hand—he leaps at the chance for a rapprochement, however resistant she may be to the notion.

Majok came to the U.S. from Poland as a child, and her plays (which also include Ironbound and Sanctuary City) are alert to the economic realities of working-class immigrant life. As its title implies, Cost of Living is very much about the ways in which material circumstances shape our choices, especially within the crazy-making labyrinth of the U.S. health-care system. Ani is reluctant to accept help from Eddie, but she needs his insurance; Jess can’t make full use of her college degree because she’s too busy working nonstop to support her ailing mother abroad. (“It matters who you are. Family. Connections. If there’s gonna be a net when you fall,” she says. “I was supposed to be the net.”)

Astutely directed by Jo Bonney, Cost of Living premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2017 and has moved up to MTC’s Broadway flagship venue for an encore run; in between, it won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I wasn’t entirely sold, I admit, on the 2017 production. I was glad for the platform it provided for the gifted Sullivan and Mozgala (who are disabled in real life), and I knew that the play contained at least one achingly beautiful scene—in which Eddie plays imaginary piano music along Ani’s arm as she sits in a tub—that would be etched in my memory forever. But Majok's structure of alternating scenes struck me as schematic, with too neat a final tie-in of its two strands of plot.

I had a different reaction to the Broadway production, which feels deeper and more fully realized to me. In part, that may reflect the added resonance its themes have acquired over the past few years, when we all became more attuned to questions of health, responsibility and isolation that Cost of Living touches on. But this version also benefits from new cast members Young and Zayas, who bring marvelous warmth and personality to their performances. The two other actors remain strong—Sullivan’s voice cuts through the theater like a serrated knife—but the balance of the play has shifted for the better. Majok’s tender, tough-loving care for her characters shines out with new life. 

Cost of Living. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Broadway). By Martyna Majok. Directed by Jo Bonney. With Gregg Mozgala, Katy Sullivan, Kara Young, David Zayas. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission. Through November 6.

Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam
Follow Time Out Theater on Twitter: @TimeOutTheater
Follow Time Out Theater on Facebook: Time Out Theater Facebook page 

Cost of Living | Photograph: Julieta Cervantes

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


You may also like
You may also like