There are plenty of plays that take great pleasure in titles with multiple meanings. But while most of those plays deal in just two, the polysemy of Martyna Majok’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning Cost of Living trades in a smorgasbord of ideas.
The most obvious is purely the economics of living in a world where the divide between rich and poor grows more significant every day. But Majok goes a little more profound in an exploration of living with disability, loss, and the sacrifices we all must make and take in an increasingly complicated world.
Told as a pair of eventually intersecting narratives, Cost of Living is the sometimes non-linear stories of two very different couples sharing a common thread.
The first coupling deals with Ani and her estranged husband, Eddie. A recent paraplegic as the result of an accident, Ani angrily takes it out on Eddie, who returns briefly as her caregiver. In the second, Jess has been hired to be the caregiver to rich Ph.D. student John, who also uses a wheelchair.
Moving back-and-forth between the two stories, courtesy of Drew Facey’s handsome turntable set, Majok initially explores the relationship separately between the two couples. Towards the end, she brings two of them together in a surprising but ultimately disappointing ending.
Along the way, Majok explores poverty, disability, sacrifice, and loss. Often quiet and contemplative, it is a lot of ground to cover in an intermissionless 105-minutes. It helps to have a quartet of actors who breathe life into Majok’s characters.
Actor, writer and advocate for the inclusion of performers with disabilities in the entertainment industry, Teal Sherer marks her Arts Club debut as Ani. It is a tremendous performance tinged with sadness and fury, tempered by a desire for connection.
That connection comes in the form of Ashley Wright as Ani’s ex Eddie. There are both authenticity and underlying warmth to Wright’s portrayal of a man looking to do what he thinks is the ‘right thing.’
Also making his Arts Club debut is Christopher Imbrosciano as John. No stranger to the role, having understudied the character for the Manhattan Theatre Club production in 2017, he brings a near perfect balance of haughty privilege and vulnerability.
Making up the other half of John’s story, Bahareh Yaraghi also makes her Arts Club debut as Jess. Perhaps the most complicated of Majok’s four characters, Yaraghi, is a joy to watch as she maneuvers her way through a life filled with its own challenges.
Under the direction of Ashlie Corcoran, some of Cost of Living‘s more intimate moments are dealt with both sensitivity and pragmatism. The foursome on stage handles each of those scenes with confidence.
Sometimes feeling a bit weighty under its many layers, Cost of Living will have you talking long after it ends. And despite a definite U.S.-centric focus, there is plenty of resonance for us north of the border, perhaps even more so right now as we near the end of our current election cycle and our own often polarizing politics.
Cost of Living by Martyna Majok. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran. An Arts Club Theatre Company production in association with Citadel Theatre. On stage at the BMO Theatre Centre (162 W 1st Ave, Vancouver) until November 3. Visit artsclub.com for tickets and information.