Critical Bias Against Motherhood in CRY IT OUT: The Playwright’s Response | PAAL

Playwright Molly Smith Metzler’s riveting piece Cry It Out tackles the early moments of motherhood and the complexities of sacrifice, compromise, doubt, love and relationship. Across the country, numerous theatres have picked up on the value of motherhood in storytelling and claimed Cry It Out for their seasons. PAAL collaborated with Northlight Theatre in Chicago at the top of summer to curate a talkback on motherhood after one of the performances of Cry It Out. This fall, Studio Theatre in DC will have the play. Most recently, Echo Theatre has given stage to this honest take on motherhood, and it has received wonderful coverage.

However, one reviewer’s take on the piece rings out of tune, and Metzler has responded with great articulation about the off-key assessments.

A portion of Molly’s letter is printed in the LA Times.

Reviewer Philip Brandes makes statements praising the brief glimpse of the father character while reducing the efforts of the mother characters. Spotting the inherent misogyny in the review, Metzler wrote a letter to the editor, a portion of which was printed in the LA Times. We reached out to Molly for the full letter, and she has agreed to let us post it here:

Dear Mr. Nakano:

My name is Molly Smith Metzler. I’m the playwright behind “Cry It Out,” which is currently running at the Echo Theater Company in Atwater Village. As you know, Jessica Gelt did extensive (wonderful) coverage of the play for the Times. Gelt highlighted the necessity of a play about motherhood (a topic rarely found on stage) and celebrated that three working mothers with small children were behind the production. We were all incredibly grateful for the feature.

I am writing to flag Philip Brandes’s review of my play, which posted July 24. While I am accustomed to getting reviews of all sorts, I am not accustomed to blatantly sexist ones. (And I am not alone in noticing this; I’ve received multiple calls from women who are outraged that his words were allowed to go to print.)

“Cry It Out” is a play about motherhood. Namely, three mothers. As Gelt wrote in her feature, the play is unique because it’s about mothers. It’s about the tragically short maternity leave we get in this country. It’s about the challenges facing new mothers as they figure out whether or not to go back to work. It’s about what our bodies, careers, and marriages go through. It’s about the friendships and profound love that define the experience of motherhood.

Yes, Brandes extols the parenting ability of the one male character in the play, who has one brief interaction with a sleeping baby in a stroller.

Brandes’s review dismisses and trivializes the experience of motherhood, but far worse than that, he harshly judges the female characters and implies they are self-centered, saying: “For all their professed concern, the moms seem more focused on their sacrifices […] Ironically, the most emotionally authentic exchange with one of the swaddled infants comes from Mitchell.”

Yes, Brandes extols the parenting ability of the one male character in the play, who has one brief interaction with a sleeping baby in a stroller. Meanwhile, the female lead breastfeeds on stage. She sings, rocks, coos, and snuggles her infant. The play is about how much she loves her child.

Brandes might not be a mother, but you don’t have to be a mother to appreciate the importance of representing that experience on stage. Motherhood is a solely female experience and like many things female, it’s devalued, underrepresented and criticized. It’s unfortunate that Brandes’s (perhaps unconscious) gender bias prevented him from seeing this play with objective eyes. Given the current administration’s assault on women’s rights, this is a time when women’s voices need to be heard loud and clear.

I wrote “Cry It Out” to refute the very opinions that Brandes insinuates.

I wrote “Cry It Out” to refute the very opinions that Brandes insinuates: that motherhood isn’t interesting, that it doesn’t belong on stage, that women should refrain from speaking up about the hardships of maternity leave. With the final line of his review (“Although this may further a social critique about moms’ limited options, it also makes them less interesting”), Brandes proves exactly why this play was necessary for me to write.

I ask that you please consider sending another writer to re-review the play. Ideally, a woman. But at least, someone who can hear it without bias.

Thank you for you consideration,
Molly Smith Metzler

Shifting culture depends on the freedom to tell our stories. Balanced criticism always welcome, we have deep gratitude to Molly for breaking the silence on critical bias against the universally relevant experiences of motherhood in theatre.


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