COST OF LIVING (PTC): A compelling new play, diminished

Ross Beschler and Rachel Handler in COST OF LIVING. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Cost of Living is one of the bravest and most compelling new plays I have seen in recent years. That was my I thought after seeing the Broadway production last year. Playwright Martyna Majok won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for the Best Play Tony Award in 2023. I doubt I would have admired Cost of Living nearly so much after seeing the local production which  just opened at Philadelphia Theatre Company.

Majok’s quiet, heart-wrenching play is about four lonely, desperate people and high cost of living, both economically and emotionally. 

We meet Eddie (Ross Beschler—too loud, too much a caricature of the blue-collar guy). He’s an unemployed truck driver who is “pissed and sad,” and who knows that the “nights are dark and the road is long.” His ex-wife, Ani (Rachel Handler, whose regional accent often gets in the way) has been paralyzed in a car accident and Eddie becomes her caretaker.

Meanwhile, in a more upscale New Jersey, John (Christian Prentice, who makes his character too charming and likable) is a graduate student at Princeton with an unspecified disease like cerebral palsy; he  also has money and entitlement to burn. He hires Jess (Cianna Costro, who needs to clean up her diction) as his caretaker, a job she navigates while working in late-night bars and sleeping in her car. As she reminds John, she too went to Princeton. And look where it got her.

Under Jeffrey L. Page’s direction, this quiet, heart-wrenching play about how hard life can be becomes noisy; there is declaiming, there is distracting underscoring (Jordan McCree) with pointless music, garish lighting (Natalie Robin), and scene changes at a glacial pace (Christopher Ash, set designer; why does it seem to be snowing indoors in the final scene?) as well as long, stare-into-space pauses, adding twenty unnecessary minutes to the running time. All of this diminishes this rich play about the fact that “The shit that happens is not to be understood.” 

Diminished or not, it’s worth seeing for the understanding of people living with disabilities and the people who care for them.

[Philadelphia Theatre Company at Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street] February 2-18, 2024;

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