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Metzler’s comic ‘Cry It Out’ sings the new-parent blues

Dina Thomas and Emjoy Gavino in “Cry It Out” at Studio Theatre. (Daniel Corey)
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Molly Smith Metzler’s comedy “Cry It Out” divides neatly into thirds: an entertainingly irreverent beginning, a bland middle and a rewardingly unsettling finish. At its worst, the 100-minute play is too diagrammatic as it meticulously maps out the discontents of being a new mother in the upper, middle and lower classes. But at its best, it’s both funny and sharp about the hard choices facing anyone starting a family in this country.

In Studio Theatre’s colorfully acted production, the least-seen mother — Adrienne, the rich one, played by Tessa Klein — is the one with the most surprising claim on your attention. Metzler, who writes this Long Island-set play of new motherhood from her own recent experience, makes Adrienne seem icy and terribly aloof until Klein strides in relatively late and delivers a blistering speech that pricks your conscience and pins back the audience’s ears. Cry it out indeed.

Molly Smith Metzler on writing “Cry It Out”

Adrienne’s gripes start with Mommy’s Thumb (a.k.a. DeQuervain’s tendinitis) and, like the complaints of Lina (working class) and Jessie (middle-to-upper class), spring from tensions regarding child care, time management and going back to work. It’s not a complicated play: The subject is nearly universal and the format is easygoing as Metzler gets you laughing while Lina and Jessie bond in their abutting backyards. In Chelsea M. Warren’s set on Studio’s intimate Milton Theatre, Jessie’s grass is greener.

You fear the show is going to be that woefully on-the-nose, especially when Paolo Andino breezes in as Adrienne’s husband, Mitchell, a nattily dressed neighbor from the wealthy enclave up the hill. (The costumes, which neatly pin the characters on the social scale, are by Kathleen Geldard.) Mitchell introduces himself to Jessie and Lina by waving toward his house and explaining, “We look down on you.”

But for most of the play, Metzler — whose TV credits include “Shameless,” “Casual” and “Orange Is the New Black” — gives authentic voice to the perils facing new parents. In the odd-couple friendship between Jessie and Lina, we see how rough the adjustments can be, even if Lina delivers many of her wry observations as punchlines. Both women are isolated and utterly thrilled to meet each other in the outdoor cold as they keep an eye on their baby monitors.

“I was talking to my breast pump like he’s Wilson in ‘Cast Away,’ ” Lina says, one of dozens of quips Dina Thomas spins amusingly in her earthy comic turn. Emjoy Gavino’s measured Jessie is a straight arrow who, among other concerns, would rather not have her husband’s wealthy family dictate which house she and her husband will buy. The early going is a gush of sharing and borderline TMI, with lots of deadpan humor.

The story meanders until the mystery of miserable, rich Adrienne deepens and as financial reality begins to claw. The up-to-the-minute script is a tidy fit for Studio, where director Joanie Schultz handles the shifts of tone as adroitly as she did two years ago with Robert Askins’s far darker comedy “Hand to God.” Surprises are hard to come by in this story, but Metzler finds a few. And as she keeps resetting the angles from which we view things, her play definitely makes you think.

Cry It Out, by Molly Smith Metzler. Directed by Joanie Schultz. Lights, Heather Gilbert; sound design, Sarah O’Halloran. About 100 minutes. Through Dec. 16 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. $20-$90. 202-332-3300 or