Beneath the shiny surfaces and glib ripostes of Daniel Goldfarb’s “Cradle and All” lurks a refreshingly mean-spirited misanthropy. You may go home with dark feelings about yourself or your significant other, but please leave the kid, if there is a kid, out of it.
Really a pair of linked one-act plays, “Cradle” will be catnip to the two actors who play childless couple Claire and Luke in the first half and married-with-infant Annie and Nate in the second. They live across the hall from each other in tony Brooklyn Heights apartments that neither couple shows any evidence of being able to afford. So to our growing fear about their couplehood, add concern about their solvency.
Act I, “Infantry,” opens with Claire (Maria Dizzia) dressed to thrill (clingy, shimmery blouse and black pants) sprinkling rose petals around the apartment. Something’s up, though Luke (Greg Keller) is at first oblivious when he walks through the door in this Manhattan Theatre Club production.
Together through five blissful years of eating at the right restaurants, making bloodless lifestyle choices and generally behaving like the spoiled brats they are, Claire and Luke are at a crossroads.
She’s about to turn 40 and the clock is ticking. He’s five years younger and not interested in her clock, never was. He also is not interested in working for his uncle, an antiques dealer, though the occasion of the night is ostensibly to celebrate his sale of a Tiffany lamp for $600,000. Silly me, at first I thought they were talking about a book deal.
Luke fell in love with Claire when, as a teenager, he saw her in a movie with Keanu Reeves. She turns out to have been a one-flop wonder. They’re not happy. Claire is convinced that having a baby will fix things, and we all know how that story goes.
In Act II, “The Extinction Method,” Annie and Nate spend the same evening trying to let their 11-month-old daughter cry herself to sleep. It’s excruciating for both of them; us, too.
He’s an unemployed actor who bakes; she’s a stay-at-home mom who seems to enjoy needling him (“wuss” is one of her preferred terms of endearment). Maybe they’re just stressed from lack of sleep; it happens. Can this marriage be saved? They finally unite against a third party: the childless parenting coach who’s been advising them via IM.
Astringently staged by Sam Buntrock and performed with conviction by Dizzia and Keller, “Cradle and All” seems old hat: Those arguments, again? Those secret hurts, still? Well, yes. I wanted to slap them and say, “Grow up.” But that’s exactly what they were doing.
Through June 19 at 131 W. 55th St. Information: +1-212-581-1212; http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com Rating: ***
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(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)