Who Gets Which Hard Choices: Cry It Out on Class, Parenting, and Empathy

When Molly Smith Metzler was six months pregnant, she moved with her husband from Brooklyn, where they’d lived for ten years, to Port Washington in suburban Long Island. Molly gave birth to their daughter Cora and spent their first months together during one of Long Island’s worst winters on record. “We’d been living in the city; we didn’t know that when you have a baby you’re basically on house arrest,” Metzler remembers. They couldn’t afford a second car, “so I was trapped at home in wintery, oceany deep freeze with a baby. It was basically Winterfell, and I was dying of loneliness.”

What changed for Metzler—the connection that became a kernel for Cry It Out—was meeting another parent in town. This woman met the friendship prerequisites for a parent of a newborn: Her child was the same age as Metzler’s and she lived in walking distance. “We had very little in common,” says Metzler, who is still friends with the woman. “But she saved my life, introducing me to this community of moms in town. The experience of having a baby cracks you open—your career, your marriage, your identity. And I saw a lot of profound questions in it and I couldn’t believe how alone I was with these questions. It was the other mom friends who got me through it all; I thought their stories belonged on stage.”

While the stakes and situation of Cry It Out were forged during Metzler’s long winter with her newborn, the play is also shaped by the geography of Port Washington and Metzler’s career-long interest in the ways that class determines people’s choices and inflects their relationships. Port Washington is a series of small villages within one incorporated city. Metzler moved to Manorhaven, a sea-level area with a mix of long-time inhabitants renting under Section 8 and recent NYC transplants. On a cliff above is Sands Point, one of the most affluent zip codes in the country. (“New York Yankees have houses up there,” read the stage directions for Cry It Out.) “I would look up at those Sands Point estates every morning and feel a play brewing,” says Metzler. “I love to write about class, and here I was living in a visual representation of it.”

In Cry It Out, Metzler introduces Manhattan-transplant Jessie, a corporate lawyer whose recent move to Manorhaven and emergency C-section have transformed her in ways she finds both amazing and unnerving—she has a new house (a yard! a balcony!), new priorities, a whole new human, and lives in near-total isolation in her husband’s hometown. Desperate for a daytime companion with a spoken vocabulary, Jessie “hurdle jump[s] over the cantaloupe” at Stop ’n’ Shop to invite her next-door neighbor Lina over for an actual conversation.

Meeting in Jessie’s back yard while their children nap—where each can still get reception on their baby monitors—the two prove to be radically different people and perfectly paired as friends, coaching each other through decisions small and large: kids’ colds, the end of their maternity leaves. Lina, a community-college dropout, is new to Port Washington as well, living with her boyfriend and newborn in her boyfriend’s mother’s house. Her mother-in-common-law hasn’t entirely stopped drinking, complicating Lina’s return to the entry-level job that will keep her family in the good school district. Jessie, still reeling from her daughter’s near-death during her birth, is considering whether she can convince her husband that she shouldn’t go back to work at all. In the midst of so much change, a friend willing to put their infant in a car seat to drive to Dunkin’ Donuts for French Vanilla coffee—which they hate—is...irreplaceable. “I think of Jessie and Lina as lighthouses for each other,” says Metzler. “They both sleep better knowing the other is there, and they keep one another afloat.”

Into this life-giving friendship stumbles Mitchell, a wealthy and flustered new father whose Sands Point house sits literally above Jessie’s back yard, asking for a favor. Could his wife Adrienne, a jewelry designer who seems to be having a rough adjustment to parenthood, join their coffee dates? He’s been watching their friendship from his yard above, and thinks his wife would benefit from a friendship like theirs. It’s weird, but Jessie’s game. When Adrienne shows up, however, she proves to be a distinctly hostile addition to the coffee klatch. And later, when Jessie offers sympathetic advice to Mitchell, her assumptions set off a series of events that bring the dangers of believing you understand other parents’ choices into pointed relief.

One of Metzler’s biggest shocks in becoming a parent was how little she actually understood about the struggles and lives of other parents: who stays home and why, who takes what job and why, who finds what way to balance the needs of their child and themselves. Becoming a mother inspired her to revise not just her thinking but a prior play. A few months after Cora's birth, Metzler woke up with a sense of dread, knowing she had to revise her successful comic drama Elemeno Pea before its next production, because of the play’s judgement of a wealthy and seemingly overwrought mother. “I couldn’t let anyone else experience that play until I’d fixed it,” she says—which she did, even though it had already been published. (Samuel French now sends out a revised manuscript and will publish the revised version in late 2018).

For all its close-to-the-marrow stakes, Cry It Out is a laugh-out-loud, punchline-ridden comedy. “Parenthood is so physically taxing. It’s so hard and humiliating and you end up with searing questions about who you are and what you’re doing,” says Metzler. “Your tits are out in front of the FedEx guy. You’re covered in poop. And me and my mom friends—it was joyful. It was really, really joyful. We laughed our asses off. Because otherwise we’d just weep.” Comedy is Metzler’s way into writing about class and the heart-scorching choices expected of parents—and mothers in particular—in a world where different families have radically different options.

Metzler, her husband, and her daughter live in Los Angeles now, where Metzler writes for television as well as the stage. But she hasn’t lost touch with the sharp edge of isolation and need that defined her first snowy spring in Long Island, nor empathy for the disorientation and terror of new parenthood, nor her appreciation for the community that got her through. “Much like babies are put down in their cribs and forced to cry themselves to sleep,” says Metzler, referring to her play’s title, “new parents get thrust into this position, and you have to figure it out on your own. And your fellow parents: You’re each other’s buoys, their floaties. You’re all you have in the darkness.”

Adrien-Alice Hansel