Let us begin by discussing the phenomenon known as the White Whine.
A White Whine, also sometimes called a Rich-People Problem, is a complaint about something that only the privileged can view as a hardship. To note that the pacing of your meal at the French Laundry was off is a White Whine. So is wondering what you’ll do while your cleaning lady is on a monthlong visit to her native Poland. Some will prophylactically dub their own kvetches White Whines, granting themselves theoretical permission to make what they know to be obnoxious statements. But the term is also often used derogatorily, against those who are blissfully unaware of how entitled their complaints reveal them to be.
With that established, we may turn our attention to Cradle and All, Daniel Goldfarb’s mildly comedic disquisition on the complexities of child-rearing, which opened last week at Manhattan Theatre Club’s off-Broadway space at City Center.
Cradle and All asks us to consider the plight of two 30-something heterosexual couples living in neighboring Brooklyn Heights apartments. One of these pairs, unmarried and happily childless, is forced to reconsider their relationship when, one evening, the woman announces that she actually would like a kid. The other, exhausted parents to an 11-month-old daughter, spend the very same evening waiting out their colicky baby, hoping–after all other techniques have failed–that she’ll finally learn to sleep if they ignore her tears. Each couple is facing an inconvenience that causes tensions, and Mr. Goldfarb explores those tensions articulately and occasionally amusingly. But neither inconvenience is particularly unusual or interesting, and the two parts don’t quite add up to a whole play.
The most intriguing aspect of Cradle and All is its gimmick: the same two actors play both couples. In the first half they’re Claire, a failed actress once on the verge of movie stardom, and Luke, an antiques dealer; in the second half they’re Annie, an executive recruiter on leave since the baby was born, and Nate, an actor who hasn’t worked in two years but who goes out every day on auditions.
Director Sam Buntrock’s stylish production makes the most of this doubling. He places each act in nearly identical, mirror-image apartments–Neil Patel’s handsome set is a meticulously renovated space, all granite, stainless steel and glass–and centers the action in both parts on a sofa at center stage. The excellent Maria Dizzia is distinct and convincing as the two women; Greg Keller seems stifled as the repressed Luke but nicely matches Ms. Dizza as the gregarious, emasculated Nate. But a good gimmick, a nice production and adequate performances can’t do much about a basic lack of heft in either plot.
Both situations are mere vignettes. Every couple, married or not, with or without children, has fights; all new parents, even of the easiest infant, have sleepless nights.
Luke, who doesn’t want a child, mostly seems troubled that an infant might interfere with his meticulously constructed environment. “I am rather taken with my own affect,” he announces at one point–and poor him that his affect might be affected. Annie and Nate, across the hall, are justifiably exhausted and irritated by their sleepless newborn, but they also seem curiously untroubled by the fact that neither of them has worked in a year, even as they pay $300 an hour to a baby-sleep therapist. Neither couple’s problems are, in the grand scheme, or otherwise, big ones.
Further, and unfortunately, neither vignette is improved by the presence of the other. It’s not that the two couples are two different versions of one another, their existences cleaved by the advent of a child; they just happen to be neighbors on opposite sides of the delivery room. Neither story reflects the other, informs the other or, a borrowed egg notwithstanding, even relates to the other.
The only point seems to be that the grass isn’t, in fact, greener on the other side. Neither is it less green. It’s always greenish, with a few brown spots. Hopefully these characters can ignore them as they sit in the landscaped garden their building presumably offers, sipping their Chardonnay.
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