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Cost of Living

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 

 

Cost of Living

Katy Sullivan as Ani and Victor Williams as Eddie in Cost of Living. Photo Joan Marcus.

 Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors   

Manhattan Theatre Club's New York City premiere of Cost of Living explores the abyss separating people, those who have, those who don't, and the universal needs that everyone shares.  It could be a drama ripe with sentimentality.  Instead, Cost of Living is a study of four people, emotional but pierced with bitterness and, surprisingly, laughter.

“The shit that happens is not to be understood," says Eddie (Victor Williams), an unemployed truck driver sitting in a bar. "That’s from the Bible.”  He recently lost his disabled former wife, Ani, although they were already separated before a car accident turned her into a quadriplegic.  

Flashbacks takes us back several months.  When Eddie, out of work and out of money, tried to convince Ani to let him care for her when the nurse was unavailable, Ani fought him at every turn. "You tryin to get rid of me? Off yer insurance? Fast as you can? That’s why yer here?" Katy Sullivan, a bilateral amputee, plays Ani in a wheelchair.  

Playwright Martyna Majok also presents a second story line with Jess and John.  An immigrant and Princeton graduation, Jess (Jolly Abraham) is unable to make ends meet with part-time work at a local bar so she applies for a job as caretaker for John, a wealthy graduate student at Princeton with cerebral palsy.  John, portrayed in a wheelchair by Gregg Mozgala, who has celebral palsy, is sharp and self-confident.  When Jess first refers to him as, "differently abled," John snaps, "Don't call it that.  It's f—ing retarded."  He questions her ability to care for him ("You would help lift me out of my chair, and onto my shower seat. Then you wash me. Every morning. My hair. Teeth. Trim my whiskers, on occasion. You’d keep me handsome").  Jess, uncompromising and just trying to keep her head above water, responds, "Whatever I haven't done, I’d figure it out." 

Directed by Jo Bonney, the characters are all portraits of various desperations.  The four actors form a gripping ensemble portraying the interwoven layers of the human condition.  Gregg Mozgala brings out the play meshing John's self-involvement with humor and innocence.  Abraham's portrait of Jess's solitary life as a financially desperate immigrant unravels seamlessly before us.  Sullivan, who has competed in the Paralympic Games track-and-field, keeps a vocal shield of barbed wire over her emotions and yet we see her frustration and fear.  She is as emotionally bare as Victor Williams as Eddie, who purposely turns away from self-pity and mawkishness.  

Honesty about people's self-protection, vulnerability and need for companionship rings through the play.  An outstanding moment of intimate assistance and trust involves bathing.  Jess shaves and washes John in the shower and Eddie gives Ani a bath, a segment that indicates an erotic moment as well as a heart-stopping sequence. 

Wilson Chin designed a turntable set without walls for the two storylines that are performed effectively yet have no connection until an ending that is just a bit too tidy. 

In this current political and economic climate, the subject of the haves and have-nots reaches beyond finances to situations of sheer survival.  These four actors bring authenticity to the challenges explored by playwright Martyna Majok, the afflictions that are obvious, those that are hidden, and the connections that make them universal.  

 

Cost of Living

Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center - Stage I
131 W. 55th St., NYC.  212-581-1212
Opened: June 7, 2017
Closing: July 16, 2017
Running Time: One hour, 40 min. No intermission
Cast: Jolly Abraham, Gregg Mozgala, Katy Sullivan and Victor Williams
Website: https://manhattantheatreclub.com/2016-17-season/cost-of-living/
Playwright: Martyna Majok
Director: Jo Bonney
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors, June 2017.

Can be read on TotalTheater.com