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Cradle and All

Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller give spirited performances in Daniel Goldfarb's pair of one-acts about parenthood.

Greg Keller and Maria Dizzia in Cradle and All
(© Joan Marcus)
New Yorkers could be forgiven for thinking male playwrights have child-bearing uppermost on their mind nowadays. Jonathan Marc Sherman's recently opened Knickerbocker has 40-year-old Jerry repeatedly declare he isn't "ready" for fatherhood. In Daniel Goldfarb's two one-acts being presented at Manhattan Theatre Club under the title Cradle and All -- directed with humor and sensitivity by Sam Buntrock -- we meet Luke, who's not "ready" either, and Nate, who is experiencing consequences from being "ready" and having had a child.

In the first -- and stronger -- of the plays, "Infantry," 34-year-old Luke (Greg Keller), an antiques salesman, comes home to 41-year-old wife Claire (Maria Dizzia), a semi-retired, second-tier movie star, outraged that 11-month-old Olivia in the next-door apartment is loudly bawling as she usually does. The caterwauling only strengthens his resolve not to have children -- an unwelcome reaction for Claire, who's been preparing scented nuts and strewing rose petals as a build-up to asking Luke for attention to be paid to her ticking fertility clock.

What follows is a baleful, totally realistic discussion between two people who are deeply in love, but must face the intractable fact that they have different goals for their future. When they married, Luke made his intentions clear, and Claire had accepted them. Now she's changed her mind, and is hoping to change his. She can't. The development couldn't be more believable, and Goldfarb presents it authoritatively.

In the second half, "The Extinction Method" (named for a training process for infants who cry themselves to sleep or don't), Olivia's parents, Nate (Keller) and Annie (Dizzia), are tormented by their daughter, whom they adore but who's making their lives miserable and their union shaky with her seemingly endless wailing. Trying not to succumb to her implicit demand for their attention, they mostly argue about how to ignore the baby.

He bakes cookies; she continually e-mails a consultant on infants and talks on the phone to her mother. For about an hour (which is meant to cover four angst-ridden hours), the anguished parents play out what seems more suited to a television series like Modern Family -- although any worthwhile situation comedy would have done the same thing in less than half the time.

Goldfarb deserves extra points, however, for a particularly astute observation: He's noticed that when couples argue -- no matter the issues -- they make comparable accusations and revelations. Accordingly, both couples here confess things about themselves they hadn't before, both couples make accusations of lying, both couples walk a thin line between staying together and parting. This could be seen as merely unconscious repetitive writing, but it isn't.

Since the wrangling couples live on the same floor, the clever set designer Neil Patel has created two mirror apartments. The beauty of the dwellings being the same yet opposite is that it underscores both the difference and fundamental similarities underlying the play's charged marital discussions.

Dizzia and Keller have accumulated worthy reputations in recent years, and their spirited performances here will enhance what they've achieved. In fact, their work could land them sitcoms of their own, which sadly would leave the theater deprived of their talents.


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