By Martyna Majok; Directed by Jo Bonney
Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 7.16.17
City Center, 131 West 55th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 6.8.17
Katy Sullivan and Victor Williams in Cost of Living. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: A harrowing tale about human dependence that is sure to move and thrill you, but might leave you unsettled.
Everyone should see Cost of Living. It’s moving and heart-wrenching and will even make you gasp in parts. But is it a great play? I find myself as conflicted as its characters.
The play revolves around two couples: Ani and Eddie (Katy Sullivan and Victor Williams) and Jess and John (Jolly Abraham and Gregg Mozgala). Ani and Eddie are recently separated after a horrible accident left her confined to a wheelchair with both legs amputated. It’s been six months since the accident, about which playwright Martyna Majok leaves us conspicuously in the dark, and Eddie has returned to Ani, presumably after having neglected her since the tragic incident. John, a wealthy Ph.D. candidate also confined to a wheelchair, interviews Jess for a job as his caretaker. John ends up hiring her and the play follows the two strained relationships.
Ultimately, Cost of Living is a comment on human dependence. It examines how much we need each other and what for. While Ani and John's needs are immediately apparent upon their first entrance, the fully-abled characters ironically demand more of our pity for the deficiencies in their lives. Majok gorgeously draws four fascinating characters, all of whom capture our empathy, and the nuanced and sophisticated performances of Abraham, Mozgala, Sullivan and Williams make this an evening well worthwhile. Each individual scene is compelling and delicious. This play is sure to live on as a significant contribution to the repertoire of scene study classes everywhere.
Wilson Chin’s turntable set is simple, but elegantly showcased by Jeff Croiter’s excellent lighting design. Director Jo Bonney gorgeously capitalizes on the design elements by choreographing entrances and exits timed perfectly to the full duration of each scene change. The seamless movement of the turntable, coupled with the movement of wheelchairs upon that turntable, lit beautifully by Croiter, made transitions feel as graceful and soothing as a dream ballet.
And yet the play left me a bit unsettled upon further reflection. For starters, I spent the majority of the evening wondering why Majok felt the need to include John and Ani, two completely unrelated characters, in the same play. I kept hoping that it wasn’t because both are in wheelchairs, but at play’s end that’s the only explanation I came up with. The play feels as though its "wheelchair-themed," and lumping these two characters together, bound only by a physical condition, just feels crass.
Perhaps what feels most exploitative about the play is that Majok doesn’t offer any redemption or conclusion for John and Ani. She uses them to elicit an emotional response, but then they conveniently disappear once they deliver their ultimate blow. This play will deeply move you, which is no small accomplishment, but after having shocked and thrilled us, Majok has no qualms about casually discarding her characters, and something about that feels unkind.
However, it’s entirely possible that my objections to the play are unique to my experience, and if you choose to skip this production you might be missing out on one of the most gorgeously cohesive off-Broadway offerings of the season. Majok is clearly a gifted playwright, but I wonder if she is using her talents responsibly here. I implore you to go and decide for yourself.
(Cost of Living plays at City Center Stage I, 131 West 55th Street, through July 16, 2016. The running time is one hour and forty minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays at 7; Wednesdays at 2 and 8; Thursdays and Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $90 and are available at manhattantheatreclub.com or by calling 212-581-1212.)
Cost of Living is by Martyna Majok. Directed by Jo Bonney. Set Design is by Wilson Chin. Costume Design is by Jessica Pabst. Lighting Design is by Jeff Croiter. Sound Design is by Robert Kaplowitz. Movement Consultant is Thomas Schall. Stage Manager is David H. Lurie.
The cast is Jolly Abraham, Gregg Mozgala, Katy Sullivan, and Victor Williams.