Cradle and All

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    May 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall

    This play reminds me of one Thanksgiving. I made soup as the first course, but tried to make my own stock with a lot of water and just a little of everything else. A great deal of work and good intention went into it, but in the end it was bland to the point of having no taste at all.

    That is the case with Cradle and All. These two fine actors, Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller, pull out all the stops for this production and are a total pleasure to watch. In the first act they play a couple who are on the verge of a decision – to have a child or not to. Claire wants to, and Luke does not. Over the course of 60 minutes we see what may be the end of their relationship unless one of them changes her or his mind.

    In the second act we see another couple who live across the hall from Claire and Luke, and to whom the first couple refers during their intense conversation. Annie and Nate are the new parents of Olivia who has, for the past 11 months, controlled their nightlife. Olivia does not like to sleep alone, and will be happy to throw a hissy fit for the four hours that this play covers. Luke and Claire are being coached via instant messaging by Lisa, who, it would appear, cannot be reached by phone but will gladly take Instant Messages.

    So we have the Prologue – titled Infantry, and the Epilogue – titled The Extinction Method. Both titles are inexplicable. What we are left with are two stories in which a lot is hinted at and little is accomplished. I think what Mr. Goldfarb intended was to investigate these two states of relationship. But in the end, what we get is almost cursory. Goldfarb went wide when he could have gone deep. In the wake of Oprah there is little we have not heard in the public square, and the theatre is one of the places where the unexpected is still allowed and must be encouraged to flourish.

    The question at Passover is Why is tonight different from all other nights? And that is the same question that every writer must ask herself or himself. Goldfarb begins well, but fails to stay the course. In the first play we don’t get to Claire’s wanting a baby until half way through. This leaves only the unsurprising discussion of biological clocks and agreements being changed. In the second act, every bit of intimacy is interrupted by checking the baby monitor and listening to a child in full throttle. I have never had children, but I wonder if four hours is a bit long for an 11-month old to be bawling non stop. More time is taken up with mixing and baking chocolate chip cookies baked while we watch. But there are only eight, which means the rest of the batter is left to languish on the counter. In between the monitoring and baking we get to the lack of sex part about both of the parents being sleep deprived and she not feeling attractive in her own eyes or in his.

    And the slight attempt at connecting the lives of these neighbors when one needs to borrow an egg falls flat when it could have been a great connector (think Alan Ayckbourn).

    Great premise but no follow through. There is just nothing new here, and even in the hands of these actors little can be done. There is more ingenuity in transforming the set by Neil Patel (the digital clock changes in the second act were masterful) than there is in the journey of these characters. Everyone ends up so close to where they started that the action feels like an optical illusion.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "A slight but mostly satisfying comedy."
    Charles Isherwood for NY Times

    "Likable new comedy,... is thoughtful and amusing."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News

    "Effortlessly likable (actors Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller), they single-handedly help the show go down easy. ... We're stuck with self-absorbed New Yorkers, whining and dining."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Beneath the shiny surfaces and glib ripostes of Daniel Goldfarb’s 'Cradle and All' lurks a refreshingly mean-spirited misanthropy"
    Jeremy Gerald for Bloomberg

    "Well-oiled, lightweight, amusing, and, in its way, comforting. ..an excellent showcase and a sure bet to entertain audiences out for a carefree evening."
    David A. Rosenberg for Back Stage

    "Doesn't break a single bit of new ground. It mirrors for us what we already know, but it does that engagingly and with compassion."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "Self-indulgences in the script and directorial mis-readings of the huge character transformations."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - Back Stage - The Record - Variety