Sound Theatre Company excels in its latest production, a challenging piece fresh off its Broadway run. It performs through July 1.
I brought coffee but it’s old
I got pizza but it’s cold
You wanna come in?
Whether it’s conscious or not, guilt-laden or not, upon seeing someone using a wheelchair there’s a pretty good chance some version of this sentiment comes to mind: They’re trapped.
In Cost of Living, playwright Martyna Majok almost gleefully plays with that sentiment.
A rambly, disjointed, desperate-sounding monologue from a lone man in a bar (Drew Hobson, as Eddie) is an inauspicious start to this two-hour, no-intermission drama, arranged so there’s virtually nowhere to hide. In Sound Theatre’s long, galley-style staging, fellow audience members are just across from you as the actors play right into your lap. You might be trapped with this guy’s ramblings for ages.
That sense quickly fades — indeed, the last half-hour of the play seemingly passes in a blink — but the theme of ensnarement, of being trapped by circumstance or physical barrier, is a pervasive one in Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2016 work.
Among all four of the play’s central characters, only two of whom are wheelchair users, the sense of being simultaneously free and trapped is a core theme. At times it peeks through in fleeting ways: When Jess (Viviana Garza) first arrives to interview as a caretaker, she’s still free to leave — John (Gerald Waters), her prospective employer, hasn’t spotted her yet — but she’s also trapped in an awkward limbo, waiting for him to finish up in the bathroom, where she’s visibly uncomfortable. Other times, it’s at once more subtle and heavy: When you have the freedom to write anyone you’d like on your emergency contact forms, what does it mean when you have no one to replace your ex? It’s a powerful sense of stuck.
Though its themes are wide-ranging and weighty, the play itself is focused, up-close, and intimate. Cost of Living is a play about the small things. A few words in the most private of settings; a story behind a name; a life-tipping moment; a life-saving ort of kindness. And that’s often how the play gets you: with a powerful sense of the mundane. It lets us feel a lot about the characters (and not always for the better) in a very short amount of time, in the three months of the setting or the two hours we spend with them.
With the inordinate closeness involved here — caregiving is a most intimate series of acts — director Teresa Thuman and intimacy director Jasmine Lomax have their work cut out for them. That and the need for two water features make this a challenging production to stage. But all four actors here shine, and Teal Sherer is a particular gem. Her character (Ani), full of piss and vinegar, spite and humor, is impossible not to love. Just don’t dare feel sorry for her.
Cost of Living closes with two performances tomorrow (plus a sold-out show tonight, with a wait list available). Catch it while you can.
Seating recommendation: Sit at the end nearest the doors, the best spot to catch Ani and Eddie’s closest exchanges.
Cost of Living runs through 7/1 at 12th Avenue Arts on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Tickets are $6-$79 (sliding scale available to all) here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall; there is one single-stall, gender-neutral, accessible restroom near the theatre entrance. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible. Captioned performance (in English) on Saturday matinee.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.