WASHINGTON — She’s written some of your favorite TV episodes, from Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” to Showtime’s “Shameless,” with a string of successful stage plays in between.
Now, Molly Smith Metzler brings her play “Cry It Out” to Studio Theatre, now through Dec. 16.
“I’m here in D.C. because Studio Theatre is on my bucket list as a playwright,” Metzler told WTOP. “I’ve seen several productions there and have always wanted to work there, so I’ve come 3,000 miles just to be a part of the fun. … It’s Studio Theatre! I think they have the best taste in contemporary plays. Their productions are so thoughtful and these actors are just so fine. To me, it’s a pedigree thing. Studio Theatre is where you want to go in Washington D.C.”
Set in Port Washington, Long Island, the play follows two new mothers, Jessie (Emjoy Gavino) and Lina (Dina Thomas), who bond over baby monitors and decide to meet in person.
“They figure out if they stretch their baby monitors, they can meet in person and have that much coveted and much needed social interaction that you need when you’re home with a baby,” Metzler said. “It’s about friendship, it’s about the experience of having a new child, it’s about maternity leave, it’s about paternity leave, how much your marriage is cracked open when you have a child, and how your entire life is cracked open when you have a child.”
The story of new motherhood is inspired by her own life experience.
“I had a woman who lived across the street who needed a cup of milk who was home with a newborn,” Metzler said. “We figured out we could meet in the middle of the street if we both stretched our baby monitors, but if either of us crossed too far, they would beep aggressively. Beep! Beep! You’d lose your picture, which was a huge panic when you have a new child.”
In the script, her two characters have vastly different backgrounds.
On the one hand, we have Jessie, a wealthy and accomplished corporate lawyer.
“She comes from money, though she’s very humble and modest about it,” Metzler said. “Jessie and her husband have been living in the Upper East Side. When they got pregnant, they moved to Port Washington and bought this new house. … She’s the bread winner of this family … an accomplished and successful woman who’s in an identity crisis because she’s feeling feelings she did not anticipate, which is she’d like to stay home with her child.”
On the other hand, we have Lina, a blue-collar woman who failed out of community college.
“She comes from the South Shore of Long Island, which is like coming from Wildwood, New Jersey,” Metlzer said. “Big parties, not much money, a huge Italian family. She works as an administrator in a hospital at an entry level job. She is living in Port Washington with her boyfriend [in] his mother’s rented house … so their son can go to an excellent school.”
Together, they bond over a range of topics, from sleep deprivation to unreliable childcare.
“There’s a sense 30 minutes into the play of, ‘Oh, maybe this is what the play is, we’re going to watch these two women be best friends,'” Metzler said. “Suddenly, a third character appears, this man who lives up on the cliff in one of these very opulent mansions. … At that point, the entire play shifts. … He wants to know, ‘Can my wife join your coffee klatch?’ She has a baby too. So then the play pivots and becomes more about class and socio-economics.”
Metzler loves to explore the social commentary of class divisions.
“It’s a town where there’s an incredible class [divide],” Metzler said. “There’s a very wealthy community that lives up on the cliff in Sands Point, then there’s a working class community that lives mostly in rental duplexes on sea level below this cliff.”
Metzler herself used to live in Port Washington, hailing from the Hudson Valley of New York.
“I always thought I’d get a Ph.D. and be a professor,” Metzler said. “Then I went to college at the State University of New York [and] randomly took an elective class in playwriting. I knew it that night. I went home with the assignment to write a scene between two people. I stayed up all night by accident, didn’t move, didn’t breathe, and said, ‘What is this thing? I have to do this!’ I’ve been doing it since, which has not always been a flawless ride. It entailed incredible years of waitressing and struggle, but the fact is, it’s the thing that wakes me up at night.”
After years of bi-coastal writing, she moved to Los Angeles in 2016.
“Everyone always told me as a playwright in New York that I should be writing for television,” Metzler said. “I started writing for a show called ‘Casual’ on Hulu, which was a really fantastic first job, then I did a season of ‘Orange is the New Black.’ … I worked on Season 5. Those characters were so well established. … I wrote the episode of Janae’s backstory called ‘Sing It, White Effie,’ about the all-white ‘Dreamgirls’ cast. … You shoot a month in New York in jail!”
From there, she began writing for Showtime’s “Shameless,” starring William H. Macy.
“I wrote the mid-season finale, so Fiona’s downfall, and Episode 2, which is when we first see Mo White, played by Dan Lauria,” Metzler said. “[It’s] just the perfect fit for me. I’ve been there two seasons, I just signed on to do two more seasons. I’m producer and writer. … It reminds me of playwriting where all the comedy comes from the characters, but there’s something under the hood, there’s something to say. … So lucky me, my day job is doing that all day!”
She finds that her playwriting informs her television work, and vice versa.
“Coming from theater is the perfect training for television writing,” Metzler said. “It’s like rowing. You’re a team. … I still self-identify as a playwright. … Playwriting is the thing that’s dearest to my heart. What’s refreshing about it is how hard it is. … It’s art. Not that TV isn’t, but it’s [constantly] changing. I have three episodes on air right now that did not exist in June, but it takes two years to write a play. It’s all about the long game, the suffering, the pain. I love it.”
Find more details on the theater website. Hear our full chat with Molly Smith Metzler below:
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Cry It Out' at Studio Theatre