On the nanny chain, observes one bewildered character in Living Out, it seems everyone is working to pay someone else to watch her kids. The wealthy pay the poor, who must in turn make some arrangement — usually more touch-and-go — for their own offspring. And it’s not a situation in which liberal intention trumps self-interest: even nice people want the best for their children, your kids be damned. Which does not make for a classless utopia. In Living Out, which is set in Los Angeles, the wealthy are a rainbow elite; the nannies are Latina. Move the play to New York or Boston and you slightly alter the players but not the game. Lisa Loomer, the author of the imaginative time-warp comedy The Waiting Room (in which women from three different eras, each with its own feminine ideal, meet in a doctor’s ante-chamber suffering the consequences of beauty-enhancing mutilations), has written a sensitive comedy that’s topical without being a treatise — even if it does skid a little in its sharp turn from satire to tragedy. And in its New England premiere at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, it’s given a warm, appropriately eyebrow-raising staging by Lois Roach.
Nancy and Richard Robin are well-meaning attorneys, he a public defender, she a higher-paid entertainment lawyer, who have a 15-week-old baby and a similarly new, if much larger, mortgage in west Los Angeles. Ana Hernandez is an educated refugee from El Salvador with an 11-year-old living there with her grandmother while she and sporadically employed husband Bobby, who reside on the rougher and smoggier east side of town, nurture six-year-old Santiago and wrestle immigration law, waiting to become "legal."
As we observe in a couple of quick, condescending interview scenes at the opening, nannies with kids of their own are less desirable than those with the ability to make the employer’s offspring their priority. So in order to get a job tending the Robins’ baby, Ana conceals the fact that she has a child in the States. At the author’s direction, one set serves as domestic headquarters to both the Robins and the Hernandezes, tripling as a park where Nancy encounters more-vacuous rich bitches and Ana has livelier encounters with fellow nannies, one from Guatemala and another from Mexico.
The play — which had a well-received 2003 run Off Broadway — is only two hours long, so one expects some sweeping and stereotyping. Still, suffice it to say that the central characters are the only ones not broadly written — and a lot of their detail is between the lines. The fellow moms (suspicious Lisa Tucker and frazzled Jen Alison Lewis) are spoiled, underemployed, and gossipy. The conspiratorial nannies (or "caregivers," as semantically troubled Nancy prefers) of Elaine D. Theodore and Nélida Torres-Colón fare better but fall into comic relief when dealing with their "loca" bosses. Theodore’s Sandra does have a touching if extraneous tale of how she celebrated her citizenship, and the vibrant actress makes the most of it.
Neither husband — loving if macho Bobby (Luis Negrón) or perky, aging-rocker Richard (Dale Place) — assumes much child-care responsibility (though Richard does try to befriend the nanny by playing Buena Vista Social Club for her). Loomer attempts, however, to paint both Ana and Nancy as struggling and sincere, at least suited up for if unable to leap the culture gap. And at the Lyric, in Roach’s astutely difference-acknowledging production, the two women are smartly played by Mariela Lopez-Ponce, a warm if reticent Ana, and Rachel Harker, an anxious, elegantly shorting-out Nancy. Along with the rest of the cast, they do as credible a job as possible of tending what are clearly infants from Toys "R" Us.
What makes Living Out better than your average social-issue drama is that the writing is punchy and the treatment of a complex situation — involving not just economic and ethnic divides but the Catch-22s of immigration law that broaden them — thoughtful rather than strident. Moreover, the way in which the scenes flow from one household and one park-bench klatsch to another point out, without slamming home, the similarities as well as the divergences in the characters’ situations. In Loomer’s breezy but carefully constructed depiction of what is a pretty strained web of mutual dependence, a lot of small, decently intended duplicities pile up until finally a strand breaks. And then, as the familiar lullaby would have it, down comes baby, cradle, and all.
Issue Date: April 1 - 7, 2005
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