COST OF LIVING

The costs of living are high indeed for the four damaged protagonists of Martyna Majok’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner Cost Of Living, now being given a gut-punchingly powerful West Coast Premiere at the Fountain.

 Eddie (Felix Solis) has already paid dearly for the life he has led, as we learn from a solo prologue that has the Brooklyn trucker describing to an unknown listener the recent death of the woman he loved deeply if not always faithfully for more than twenty years.

Flashbacks then introduce us to Cost Of Living’s three remaining characters, beginning with Harvard Ph.D candidate John (Tobias Forrest), a trust-funder whose considerable fortune would make his life a walk in the park were it not for the cerebral palsy that not only keeps him wheelchair-bound but requires near constant caregiving.

 Enter Jess (Xochitl Romero), the 20something daughter of south-if-the-border immigrants whose honors degree from Princeton would epitomize the American dream if only it had led to lucrative employment. Instead she’s working for tips at a couple of late-night bars and hoping to add a third job to her current resumé by tending to John’s needs, that is if she can convince him she’s got the physical and emotional strength to do so.

Meanwhile, Felix has shown up at the Jersey City apartment he once shared with estranged wife Ani (Katy Sullivan), that is before he cheated on her, that is before a car crash shattered her spine and left her paralyzed from the neck down save the tiniest bit of movement in one finger, a six-month absence from Ani’s life that makes her displeasure at finding her almost-ex-husband knocking on her door this September morning a no-brainer.

Though neither feels particularly wanted, both Jess and Felix soon find themselves assuming the role of caregiver, a job whose inherent challenges are exacerbated by the fact that John and Ani are what is kindly referred to as “difficult.”

Whether as the result of disability or privilege or a combination of both, John is as arrogant, insensitive, and self-centered as a man can get; the foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, embittered Ani is no easier to be around; and playwright Majok does little to soften either, even after Jess and John have entered (or reentered) their lives.

 Instead, she makes us rethink preconceived notions of disability, wealth, education, and happily-ever-after, and by insisting that Ani and John be played by disabled actors, makes a political statement that for the most part Hollywood has refused to embrace.

 A bilateral above-the-knee amputee (and champion Paralympics athlete), Sullivan is utterly convincing as paraplegic Ani, and so is real-life paraplegic Forrest in vanishing into the skin of someone with cerebral palsy, each actor daring us to care about characters who are, to put it mildly, not easy to love, but in Sullivan’s and Forrest’s expert hands, care about them we somehow do.

Romero and Solis are equally memorable (and cast per Majok’s wishes with actors representing Brooklyn/Jersey diversity), the former giving us not just Jess’s admittedly hard-edged exterior but the wounded soul beneath, the latter simply heartbreaking as a man living with almost unbearable regrets and doing his best to make things right.

 John Vreeke merits highest marks for his incisive direction as do Tom Buderwitz for a scenic design that hides a couple of unexpected wonders, John A. Garofalo for his appropriately stark lighting design, Nicholas Santiago for his mood, weather, location-establishing video design, Shon LeBlanc for his character-defining costumes, and Terri Roberts for properties ranging from unpacked boxes to bathing accouterments, and Jeff Polunas’s evocative sound design is every bit as fine.

Cost Of Living is produced by James Bennett, Deborah Culver, Simon Levy, and Stephen Sachs.

Eileen Grubba understudies the role of Ani. Emily Lehrer is production stage manager. Scott Tuomey is technical director.

 It would be a major coup for any SoCal regional house to snag the rights to Martyna Majok’s latest. (The 661-seat Geffen gave her Ironbound its West Coast Premiere in February.) That it’s a 99-seater giving Angelinos their first look at Cost Of Living is a much deserved vote of confidence in The Fountain Theatre, one that pays off as one of the year’s most remarkable, compelling productions large or small.

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The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. Through December 16. Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00. Sundays at 2:00. Reservations: 323 663-1525
www.FountainTheatre.com

–Steven Stanley
November 19, 2018
Photos: Geoffrey Wade Photgraphy

 

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