By Victoria L. Dammer
The complex and often fragile relationship between the able and disabled is displayed in Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize Winning drama The Cost of Living, offering the audience insight into the human struggle to need and be needed.
Truck driver Eddie Torres (David Zayas) just lost his quadriplegic wife Ani (Katy Sullivan) and speaks openly to St. Mazie’s Bar patrons in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to anyone who will listen to him. It’s several weeks before Christmas, an emotional time of the year when we desire the comfort of others. He is a caregiver who has lost his mission. And, even though he’s suffered a tremendous loss, he is thoughtful and insightful.
“Cuz, y’ know, you married a person. And a person’s gonna be a person even if they’re married,” Torres says. “That’s a lesson for yer life right now.”
Torres shares snippets of exchanged texts between him and Ani during his life while he was on the road away from her, exposing their once closeness which is now enshrouded in loneliness. Yet, he hasn’t given up on finding love again and his quest to be needed.
John (Gregg Mozgala) is wheelchair-bound by cerebral palsy, living in a high-end handicapped apartment in Princeton, New Jersey. He’s been through several caretakers, his wealth offering him an elitist status other disabled people can’t enjoy. It’s September.
He interviews a new caretaker Jess, (Kara Young), a first-generation American. She is uneasy, unsure she is ready to take on the tremendous responsibility she will have with John. John is a bit of a jokester when Jess remarks she has never worked with a “differently-abled” person before.
“It’s fucking retarded,” John says, a word none of us would use today.
But John is also arrogant, asking Jess where she went to school and bragging about his Harvard college credentials and intellect.
“I have money. I can basically do anything I want except things I can’t.”
Jess confesses her need for money and is willing to do whatever John requires to get financial stability.
Jess falls in love with John and is deeply wounded when she misconstrues his intentions to take her out for a date. All the while, he has plans to meet another coed instead of her.
Cost of Living then circles back to September when John took care of Ani, despite her trying to push him away. The audience can feel her pain of being in the wheelchair, her trying to remain stoic in front of John.
John asks, “How can I help, Ani?”
“You don’t gotta help me with shit. We’re separated,” Ani says, but the audience can read the pain of defeat on her face. John doesn’t give up on her and cares for her through the end.
The story returns to Christmas time, and John finds Jess sleeping in her car outside his apartment in Brooklyn. Jess doesn’t trust, but John offers her a place to live without strings. He needs to fulfill his longing for someone to care for, and Jess needs the care of a kindhearted soul like him.
John asks her to come into his apartment, but he’s asking her to enter his life, and it’s a powerful ending to a story of human benevolence.
Cost of Living, starring Gregg Mozgag, Katy Sullivan, Kara Young and David Zayas. Written by Martyna Majok. Directed by Jo Bonney. Scenic design by Wilson Chin; costume design by Jessica Pabst; lighting design by Jeff Croiter; sound design by Rob Kaplowitz; original music by Mikaal Sulaiman; movement consultant Thomas Schall: original casting by The Telsey Office; casting by Caparelliotis Casting & Kelly Gillespie; production stage manager David Lurie-Perret; press representative Boneau/Bryan-Brown.
Cost of Living opens October 3 and runs through October 30 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th Street, New York. Tickets are available at Broadway.com