Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Cost of Living
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of American Son and Zander's review of A Chorus Line


Katy Sullivan and Wendell Pierce
Photo by Daniel Rader
The arresting quality of the extraordinarily unique Cost of Living, a new show on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, is undeniable. Moreover, many theatergoers (including this writer) might very well find themselves significantly enriched and educated for having experienced a performance of Martyna Majok's play, a metaphor for struggling and coping with loneliness. The production, directed by Obie Award winner Jo Bonney, continues through July 10th. Cost of Living will be presented at Manhattan Theatre Club in May 2017.

Actor Wendell Pierce, recognizable to many for his exceptional work on television's "The Wire" and "Treme," opens the piece as Eddie, with a prologue/monologue: he was a truck driver, is looking for work, has lost his wife from whom he was separated and whom he loved ... Eddie is searching. A while later, through various scenes, we are introduced to Ani (Katy Sullivan), after her spine was severely injured in an automobile accent. Retreating just a bit in time, Ani is situated by herself and embittered, angry, despondent. At one point, she says, "I'm sad and pissed." Her husband Eddie visits, still cares. She rejects, for a time, any assistance. She has lost sensation in much but not all of her body. Katy Sullivan, an actress who was born without her lower legs, is also a woman who has also been a medalist at the U.S. Paralympics.

The character of John, a man who has cerebral palsy and cannot walk, is played by actor Gregg Mozgala, who has cerebral palsy. John, an outspoken doctoral student, needs a person to tend to his needs. Jess (Rebecca Naomi Jones), otherwise working as a bartender, is hired. She will have to rise very early to shave and shower John. He is smart and edgy. She, never shy, wears her feelings quite outwardly, remains undaunted, and is desperately in need of fiscal support and personal connection.

Cost of Living, running for something like an hour and three quarters without intermission, is composed of staccato scenes, many of which are emotional, as stagehands (during interludes) move set pieces around to describe a few locales. Wilson Chin's proactive design choices and Jessica Pabst's costuming add flavor and environmental feel. Majok's dialogue is oftentimes correctly clipped which eliminates any possibility of her script becoming melodramatic. Instead, the entirety is marked by a crisp fervency. The playwright also manages to lace her play with occasionally humorous moments, which are most welcome. On a certain level, an audience is unnerved—faced with disabled and non-disabled people, raw and vulnerable and attempting to survive singularly trying circumstances. Nothing in Cost of Living is staid and familiar. All is developmental, in flux.

This play speaks, as the program indicates, of the "urban east of America." Think Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and places in northern New Jersey. Majok knows her territory since she evidently was an attendant for men with disabilities and did work at a bar. When she was a young girl, the playwright and her mother came to this country from Poland and lived in Jersey. Life, for the author, has sometimes been filled with challenge.

Each of the actors is affecting. Wendell Pierce and, in particular, Rebecca Naomi Jones are asked to literally provide hands-on care. This is accomplished with knowledge and authenticity. Majok, during final sequences, makes certain to find linkage between people who seemed to be operating in distinctive spheres, apart from one another. The production is consistently surprising and unable to anticipate. Directing, Bonney applies a neat combination of technique and sensitivity.

This is a finely drawn and penetrating play. The material is bold and its treatment, on the inviting WTF stage, is formative. Watching is nothing short of inspiring.

Cost of Living continues on the Nikos Stage as part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown, Massachusetts through July 10th, 2016. For tickets, call (413) 597-3400 or visit wtfestival.org.


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