Review: ‘Cost of Living’ at The Manhattan Theatre Club

The Manhattan Theatre Club is presently offering a 4-character play set in “the urban east of America” in the “near present day.” That description in the Playbill is a bit cryptic, but that may be because Cost of Living is a play only in the sense that it uses actors to act out a 90-minute study of two cases, played side by side on a revolving stage. Its playwright is Martyna Majok who has probably won more awards for outstanding original work than any other aspirant writer. It deals with two people with disabilities and the aides who help them cope with the difficult tasks of every day living. It speaks of the needs we have for human contact and for the varying kinds of comfort we are capable of giving.

Katy Sullivan and Victor Williams in Cost of Living. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Ani is a young woman who has lost both legs in a tragic auto accident, caused by her own drunken driving. The actress Jolly Abraham plays her with compassion and great force. An almost fatal accident in the course of the play almost costs her dearly, and her enactment of it is vivid.

Her estranged husband Eddie, an unemployed truck driver, has reasons of his own for providing her with the best personal care – hope of rekindling their marriage. Victor Williams plays Eddie who suggests tenderness lying beneath his large frame and tough facade. John is an attractive, brilliant young man whose cerebral palsy has left him in a wheelchair, doomed to dependency. He’s very movingly played by Gregg Mozgala. He is fiercely independent in his head and demands much from Jess, the impoverished young woman who is determined to hold her job as his attendant. She in turn is played with great clarity by Katy Sullivan.

Their relationship is played out sequentially on a revolving stage which allows us to move from one set to another. Eddie sets us up in a very long monologue prologue which then flashes back to earlier times so we can see where these partnerships in healing began. And in the 90 minutes that follow we become engaged in the growing realization that even those untouched by infirmity have needs for contact and affirmation.

The four actors under Jo Bonney’s detailed direction are superb. Ms. Sullivan is herself an actress whose legs are taped so that we see only the stubs in her wheelchairs. It is only in the curtain call that we realize the actress relies on the metal rods that allow her mobility. John, as played by Mr. Mozgala, gives us a beautifully realized characterization that shows no signs of self-pity but little inclination to empathize with the problems of his caregiver. Ms. Majok’s dialog has the ring of truth to it.

I found myself missing more of a story line in the writing of the play: but the originality of its subject, the accuracy of the dialog, the excellence of the performances, all contributed to a well spent evening at the theatre.

The handling of the delicate scenes of nudity and bathing in a tub were particularly well staged and designed. Handled with dignity and intelligence, they helped us to experience some of the private moments of needy people, and both couples became all the more real as a result.

Wilson Chin’s sets and the other visual and sound designers equally enriched the experience. Lynne Meadow’s and Barry Grove’s many years of experience as artistic director and executive producer are impressively stamped on this very fine example of a good work well done.

Running  Time: One hour  and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

Cost of Living plays through July 16, 2017, at Manhattan Theatre Club performing at MTC Stage I at City Center – 130 West 56th Street, in New York, NY. For tickets, go to the box office, or purchase them online.

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