Cost of Living

David Zayas and Katy Sullivan.

David Zayas and Katy Sullivan.

By: Darryl Reilly

The majestic David Zayas is entrancing while elevating Cost of Living, playwright Martyna Majok’s uneven 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary drama, now making its Manhattan Theatre Club-presented Broadway debut. Ms. Majok strives for social realism with her articulate and poignant working-poor characters, but her bifurcated structure meanders cryptically. The overly sentimental surprise conclusion doesn’t quite ring true. Majok does craft lovely dialogue for her appealing figures, these simple qualities transcend the busy production.

Over the last 20 years, in television shows such as OZ and Dexter and on stage in LAByrinth Theater Company productions, Mr. Zayas has distinguished himself as a remarkable actor. The former New York City Police Officer Zayas’ smooth soothing voice, graceful physicality despite a bulky physique and soulful presence endow him with the traits to achieve searing performances reminiscent of those found in the emotionally complex works directed by Elia Kazan.

In Cost of Living, Zayas plays Eddie, an underemployed 12-years sober, 54-year-old former trucker, whose life went downhill after being charged with driving under the influence. His estranged wife Ani has recently had both legs amputated because of a blood clot. Eddie visits her at her apartment and tends to her while they spar and commiserate.

The play’s most effective sequence is its first where we meet Eddie in a bar as he speaks to an unseen person. It is a joy to experience Zayas commanding the stage alone. “The shit that happens is not to be understood. It’s in the Bible…” Scenic designer Wilson Chin’s “urban east of America” bar is beautifully rendered as a dark void illuminated by a long row of floating liquor bottles with strands of adjacent Christmas lights above it, as it’s the holiday season. Mr. Chin also provides richly detailed other locales.

Gregg Mozgala and Kara Young.

Then we are at the wealthy Harvard graduate John’s luxury apartment. He’s in his late 20’s, is in New York to attend graduate school and is in a wheelchair as he is disabled. He is interviewing Jess for the position of his caregiver. She is a spirited young Black woman who works nights as a bartender and hustles day side gigs. John hires her; her main duties are shaving and bathing him. Is this a case of a budding romance between the rich infirm and an underprivileged servant?

Scenes between John and Jess alternate between those of Eddie and Ani. Majok crams a lot in, and it doesn’t all cohesively and believably cohere. Still, Cost of Living attempts to forge a narrative depicting the underclass, which is rare and laudable for the present day mainstream theater. The cast does wonders.

The vivacious Kara Young is feisty and touching as Jess. Gregg Mozgala wonderfully balances haughtiness with sensitiveness in his portrayal of the snooty John. With her croaky expressive voice and luminosity, Katy Sullivan offers a tender vivid characterization of Ani. Ms. Sullivan and Zayas’ warm rapport is marvelous. Mr. Gregg and Ms. Sullivan are each people with disabilities, and created these roles in Cost of Living’s 2016 Williamstown Theatre Festival premiere, and Off-Broadway the following year.

This bittersweet slice of life is lamentably given an overblown production marring its potential power. Scene transitions are punctuated by actions on a shifting turntable switching to various loctations and lighting designer Jeff Creiter and sound designer Rob Klapowitz’s obtrusive contributions. Before a new scene starts, we often extraneously view characters walking in the distance, sometimes in the rain carrying an umbrella. Director Jo Bonney and Majok are complicit in these negligible aesthetic decisions which distract from the unfolding story.

With its disjointed format, jarring detours and inauthentic flashes,
Cost of Living is a flawed though worthy work due to its aspirations and performances.

Cost of Living (through October 30, 2022)
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit
Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with no intermission


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