Sunday, October 23, 2022

Cost of Living (Manhattan Theater Club)

By Harry Forbes

Martyna Majok’s deeply moving play relates parallel caregiver and patient stories before ultimately converging poignantly. That simple precis may not sound appealing on the face of it, but trust me, this is theater at its very best.

I hesitate to give away more of the plot as events unfold so compellingly, and really, the less you know going in, probably the better. But, suffice to say, “Cost of Living” -- which premiered at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in July 2016, played MTC’s Stage 1, and won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama -- is beautifully and delicately nuanced, qualities that are mirrored every step of the way in the superb performances. Both Gregg Mozgala and Katy Sullivan, disabled in real life,  were deservedly acclaimed in the Off-Broadway run, and now, David Zayas and Kara Young match them brilliantly.

There’s Eddie (Zayas), an out-of-work truck driver, caring for his quadriplegic ex-wife Ani (Sullivan) who has lost her legs in a car accident, while the well-to-do John (Mozgala), incapacitated by his cerebral palsy, is persuaded, despite initial qualms, to hire the inexperienced Jess (Kara Young) to assist him with his daily ablutions. 

I was familiar with Zayas from his excellent work in Showtime’s “Dexter” and many other series, but I wasn’t prepared for what an incredibly potent stage actor he is, too. He opens the play with a lengthy, expertly acted, monologue about the intense loneliness he feels after losing his wife, after which the action takes us back to the events of the past several months. Young, so charismatic in last season’s production of Lynn Nottage’s “Clyde’s,” impresses mightily once again as the spunky but all too vulnerable cocktail waitress turned home health aide. 

Both plot strands involve scenes where the caregivers tenderly bathe their charges. And these are among the most moving I’ve ever seen.

The sequence involving Eddie and Ani is highlighted by a wonderfully affecting childhood remembrance from Eddie, accompanied by a haunting piece of music by Mikaal Sulaiman whose original score for the play is another asset. During this sequence, I’m quite sure there was nary a dry eye in the house, as they say. And yet those profoundly affecting moments are followed by an incredibly harrowing episode, mercifully brief, but all the more powerful for coming after such a heartrending scene.

Wilson Chin’s spare turntable scenic design, sensitively illuminated by Jeff Croiter’s lighting design, and Jessica Pabst’s spot-on costumes are just right.

Jo Bonney’s direction maintains the exquisite delicacy of Majok’s writing with its aching themes of loneliness and connection, and she elicits, as indicated, pitch perfect performances. 

It’s a sad story, yes, but such a relatable one and so finely done, that one leaves the theater not depressed but exhilarated. 

(Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street;, by phone at 212-239-6200; through November 6)

Top  (l-r) – Katy Sullivan, David Zayas Photo credit © Julieta Cervantes

Below (l-r) – Gregg Mozgala, Kara Young Photo credit © Jeremy Daniel


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