Theater Review: 'Cost of Living'

By: 
Ben Miles

What is the cost of living? Perhaps it would be cheaper, less of a toll anyway, to choose other options, instead of bearing the steep tax that life sometimes imposes, often unexpectedly. But what might seem the easier or more convenient way out is outweighed by life’s obligations, and our own inner-collage of needs. This is the theme of the intersecting storylines in Martyna Majok’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Cost of Living” — a wise, authentic and unique dramatization.

Directed with humane insight and a startling degree of earthy humor by John Vreeke, Majok’s quartet of characters are embodied with vulnerability and brought to fragile life by a cast that includes performers who are coping with disabilities in their offstage lives. There’s John, a wealthy, sharp-minded graduate student afflicted with cerebral palsy (Tobias Forrest brings nuance and a viscerally unnerving credibility to his performance); also, we meet Ani (a dirty-talking quadriplegic exquisitely characterization by Katy Sullivan who originated the role in the premiere production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and the off-Broadway staging at the Manhattan Theatre Club).

Additionally, the script includes Eddie who becomes the caregiver to Ani, his ex-wife (Felix Solis owns this rough-hewed, former cross-country trucker character, mining hope and hilarity out of grave misfortune); and Jess who — even with a recently received undergrad degree from Princeton University — applies and is relunctently hired by John to be his caregiver (Xochitl Romero plays Jess who’s portrayal emerges from her silent facial expressions as much as from the scripted lines).

In the bifurcated scenarios we bear witness to the immodest rigors of the life of individuals confronting quotidian chores — such as bathing, shaving and the mandates of feminine hygiene — of a catastrophically disabled man and woman. What’s more, we learn through Majok’s crisp wit and smart dialogue that emotional entanglements are inseparable from the caregiving and care-receiving tasks.

“Cost of Living” was first written by Majok as a shorter play titled “John, Who’s Here From Cambridge,” which was preceded by a monologue Majok penned from what she describes in an interview as “a place of grief.” Although the script’s seams and crevices are evident in this staging — the jigsaw assembly of the play remains like faded scar tissue; nevertheless, the drama’s power hits hard and its poignancy lingers long after the show has ended.

The stagecraft is simple but realistic — Tom Buderwitz’s scenic design includes a shower with running water in John’s apartment, and a bathtub in Ani’s abode; the moody lighting motif designed by John A. Garofalo is perfectly suited to the emotional tones of the show, as is Nicholas Santiago’s video design; and the costuming by Shon LeBlanc is practical and easily managed throughout the changes required during the intermission-less seven-scene exposé that comprises the “Cost of Living.”

Doubtlessly, “Cost of Living” is well worth the cost of a ticket.

“Cost of Living” continues at L.A.’s Fountain Theatre through Dec. 16.

The Fountain is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles, 90029.

Show times and days vary. For reservations call (323) 663-1525. For further information and for online ticketing visit http://www.FoutainTheatre.Com.

ben@beachcomber.news

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