After making its award-winning Off-Broadway debut with Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center in 2017, and receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2018, Martyna Majok’s Cost of Living is now playing a limited Broadway premiere engagement with MTC at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Directed again by Jo Bonney, the play is presented in the format of a series of go-back scenes exploring the weighty theme of the human need to connect and to care for one another. It does so with unexpectedly zesty humor, insightful empathy, and heartrending poignancy, through the complex relationships of two pairs of characters – two who are disabled and two who look after them.
The play opens with a direct-address monologue from Eddie, an unemployed truck driver with a DUI conviction, who had left his wife Ani for another woman, and tried to make amends by providing insurance and caring for her after she was severely injured in an accident that resulted in the loss of both legs and a shattered spine that left her quadriplegic. It then alternates between segments of their interactions with those of two Ivy Leaguers – the wealthy and supercilious John, who has cerebral palsy, and the hard-working Jess (the daughter of immigrants, with an ailing mother she supports financially), whom he interviews then hires to be his caregiver.
Through the characters’ evolving connection, Majok’s rich script raises issues of loneliness, fragility, and co-dependence, class, money, and marginalization, emotional neediness, openness, and boundaries, with distinctive three-dimensional personalities that bespeak their humanity, in all its vulnerability, compassion, and flaws. It should be noted that the show contains nudity and frequent profanity, and is not recommended for children below the age of twelve.
Gregg Mozgala and Katy Sullivan return in their highly acclaimed original roles of John and Ani, who, in real life, have the same physical conditions as their characters (though are not confined to wheelchairs, as seen in the company’s enthusiastically received curtain call). They are joined by the equally affecting and believable Kara Young as Jess and David Zayas as Eddie. All deliver the laughs, the struggles, and the credible psychology, from the unlikable condescension, power-plays, and manipulations of John (driven by his upper-class status and the one thing he can’t control) to the justifiable anger and feistiness of Ani (who becomes increasingly open to Eddie’s attention and regrets), the strength and determination of the self-reliant Jess (who must learn to trust again), and the grieving repentance of Eddie (whose sensitivity is manifested in his beautiful gesture of fingering piano notes on Ani’s arm while bathing her, to harness the therapeutic qualities of music), in powerful portrayals that are at once rounded, relatable, and entertaining, without ever becoming overly sentimental or cloying.
The artistic team provides a design that distinguishes between the situations of the characters, with an efficient set by Wilson Chin and costumes by Jessica Pabst that effectively contrast their identities and lifestyles. Jeff Croiter’s lighting, sound by Rob Kaplowitz, and original music by Mikaal Sulaiman enhance the moods and define the locales, in a top-notch work that digs deeply and intimately into what makes us human and how we deal with the challenges we face – together, rather than alone.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 50 minutes, without intermission.
Cost of Living plays through Sunday, November 6, 2022, at Manhattan Theatre Club, performing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $74-298, including fees), go online. Masks are required for everyone inside the theater, except while actively eating or drinking.