Cost of Living

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Photo: Julieta Cervantes Review
Given the hyperinflation currently dominating our headlines and affecting most Americans’ wallets today, it would be no surprise if Martyna Majok’s “Cost of Living,” now at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre under Jo Bonney’s assured direction, turned out to be about nothing more than how to navigate the aisles at Whole Foods without losing your whole paycheck.

And while day-to-day economics are a major concern for three of Majok’s four characters, this decidedly moving work – first performed in 2016 and the winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama – is primarily focused on the emotional and physical costs of the quartet’s day-to-day survival. Indeed, each of Majok’s characters – whom we see in a series of two-person encounters on Wilson Chin’s simple rotating set -- have their own particular burden(s) to bear.

John (an effective Gregg Mozgala, literally baring all in one scene) is a wealthy Princeton graduate student with cerebral palsy and a too-glib charm that masks his constant physical pain. Meanwhile, his new caretaker Jess (a fiery yet heartbreaking Kara Young, continuing her ascendancy into the Broadway pantheon of great stars) barely makes ends meet by tending bar and tending to John, even though she has a Princeton degree. (It appears to be Majok’s contention that no full-time employer can see through the color of Jess’ skin, although exactly what career path she has tried to follow remains frustratingly vague.)

John and Jess’ complex relationship – which faces the hurdles of economic inequality and miscommunication -- is portrayed in contrast to the longstanding one of Eddie (a haunting David Zayas), a struggling truck driver and recovering alcoholic, and his estranged wife Ani (the fierce yet vulnerable Katy Sullivan), who has recently lost her legs and much of her body movement in a car accident.

Their lives not only remain intertwined by both 20+ years of personal history, but also because Ani relies on Eddie’s medical insurance for her complicated care. While Eddie has ostensibly moved on with another woman, Ani’s emergency need for a nurse (who has unexpectedly not showed up for her shift) prompts him to offer a week’s worth of caretaking, an offer she accepts with a mixture of resignation, disdain and fear. Unsurprisingly, though, it restrengthens the couple’s bond and leads to a reconciliation.

Somewhat oddly, Majok seems to have given the physically disabled characters less emotional dimension – and basic likeability -- than their caretakers. Indeed, Ani and John can be so unpleasant that, after a while, you almost wish for them to disappear and for the play to focus solely on Eddie and Jess. Indeed, while it perhaps shouldn’t be the case, their challenges end up the ones we most care about.

By the play’s end, we also realize the prices Jess and Eddie pay for remaining alive are something that can never be solved by the Federal Reserve.
It's their plights that will still be seared in my brain the next time I go to buy organic milk and pasture-raised eggs.
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Gregg Mozgala, Katy Sullivan, Kara Young, David Zayas

Open/Close Dates
Opening 10/3/2022
Closing Open-ended

Theatre Info
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street
New York, NY 10036