Cost of Living needs more heart, but it manoeuvres issues of disability and classism with grace

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      By Martyna Majok. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran. An Arts Club Theatre Company production, in partnership with Citadel Theatre. At the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre on Wednesday, October 16. Continues until November 3

      Cost of Living is a serviceable production of a relevant play. It’s engaging enough for its uninterrupted 105-minute run time, and fairly forgettable afterwards.

      The play’s off-Broadway production won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2018. It follows two discrete story lines: cash-strapped Jess (Bahareh Yaraghi) is hired as a caretaker by John (Christopher Imbrosciano), a graduate student with cerebral palsy; and Eddie (Ashley Wright), an out-of-work trucker, looks after his quadriplegic ex-wife, Ani (Teal Sherer).

      The play’s themes of privilege and struggle will certainly resonate with a working-class audience, but it lacks the emotional punch you’d hope for. The characters aren’t fleshed out enough for us to really feel for them.

      The most exciting part of the show is the set, designed by Drew Facey. The stage is inlaid with a rotating ring that spins to swap the main locations of each story. It’s a clever way to quickly transform the space, and it’s more dynamic than anything that happens on it.

      If there’s a standout among the actors, it’s Yaraghi as Jess. She’s funny, and gets to deliver some of the show’s best lines. (“I just want something that’s mine for one night. Even if it’s yours.”) Her story is most likely to tug at the heartstrings—a Princeton graduate who’s now a bartender, she works constantly to stay afloat, and most clearly exemplifies how high the “cost of living”, financial and emotional, really is.

      Wright as Eddie gets in a few powerful moments as well, especially near the end, when his character breaks down. Imbrosciano as John has good comedic timing, and is quite satisfying in his takedowns of ableism. (“How do I… refer to you?” Jess asks uncomfortably. “Are you planning on talking about me?” John replies. “No,” she answers. “Why not?” he quips. “I’m very interesting.”) He and Yaraghi share some nice chemistry in their scenes together. And I have to give both him and Sherer kudos for getting naked and bathed on-stage, surely freezing up there during every performance.

      Cost of Living handles issues of disability and classism with grace. But it’s a middle-of-the-road production that desperately needs more heart to make an impact. It’ll get its message across, but without much staying power—which is maybe more unfortunate for a play like this than it would be for something less weighty.