Cost of Living is this year’s most heralded and successful theater featuring acts with a disability. This year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to playwright Martyna Majok for Cost of Living, her drama/comedy about four people — two couples alone in two apartments in New Jersey. The play focuses on Ani, recently paralyzed at a high level from a car accident, and her estranged husband, truck-driver Eddie, who desperately wants to reconnect. Then, in alternate scenes, the main couple is John, rich and bright but in need of personal assistance due to cerebral palsy, and Jess, his just-hired caregiver. Both Ani and John are in wheelchairs for the entire play. Ani is played by double-amputee Katy Sullivan, and John is played by Gregg Mozgala, who has CP.The play intertwines the struggle of intimacy and loneliness within the lives of these two couples. It is searing, darkly funny, unsentimental, subtly sensuous — “My mind’s a great lover,” Ani says — and perhaps most importantly, as one review notes, “slams the door on uplifting stereotypes.” Disability is not a topic here, nor a flag of protest or exclusion. It’s a reality that informs and impacts the lives of everyone involved and links up with the most human of experiences. “In both stories,” says critic Jesse Green in The New York Times, “the biggest handicaps are the universal ones: fear and disconnection.”
“If you don’t find yourself in someone onstage in Cost of Living,” he concludes, “you’re not looking.” Sullivan, aka Ani, “the hilariously foul-mouthed New Jersey terror,” as Green describes her, is a legitimate star in this new world of the theater of inclusion. She is riding high. For her role in Cost of Living she has been nominated for the highest theatrical awards — the Drama League, the Outer Circle Critics, and the Lucille Lortel — and she recently won the Theatre World Award.
She is having, in her own words, “her victory lap.” Like most actors who make it, disabled or not, Sullivan is a decades-long overnight success. A Paralympian who didn’t compete until age 25, she got a degree in theater at Webster College in St. Louis and worked her way up, first in Chicago, then New York and Los Angeles. Born with no legs below the knees, she mastered prosthetics at an early age and has played both disabled and nondisabled characters on stage. In a long skirt, she says, she can pass for any long-legged lass. In Cost of Living, she plays a character who is a combined quad/amp, has the use of only one hand, and needs a caregiver, a role Eddie yearns to fill.