From a blackout on stage, we hear her voice: “I am the most important person in my boss-lady’s life.” A musical fanfare resounds from overhead. Ta-dah! Lights come up center stage. And Perla Laske, a renowned actress from Argentina, seated on a throne as a Paraguayan wielding a broom like a scepter, introduces herself as “The mucama!”
But wait! What’s a mucama? For us, in American culture, we can identify a mucama as hired help, a housekeeper, cleaning lady or nanny. In Latino countries, the label applies to many domestic roles. With this solo performance, Laske gives us a series of funny vignettes about the relationships between mucamas and their bosses.
Costumed in white apron dotted with black polka dots, and sporting a wild black wig, Laske, now the Paraguayan maid who has worked without pay, tells us she has a mission in life: she will start an agency to create jobs for “patronas” or “bosses.” This may be the only way to guarantee that Boss-Ladies will make enough money so they can say, “I can’t live without my maid.”
That punch line tops off the first scene and launches Laske into a wild array of costume and wig changes. The character of the delightful Boss-Lady with the bouffant, red-haired wig regales us with exaggerated tall-tales about the cleaning lady and a vacuum cleaner and a psychoanalyst. Even though psychiatry jokes sound clichéd, Laske’s comic delivery is flawless and hilarious.
But that’s only one among many highly-charged scenes. One word says it all: suspense. There are unpredictable twists at the end of each scene. I caught myself wondering what trick will writer/director/performer Laske pull out of that magic head of hers next?
One of the most evening’s significant vignettes portrays a maid’s life through the eyes of a child. As lights dim, we watch Laske change costume and become a little girl, dressed up in a turquoise ballerina skirt, white-lace collar, hair tied up in pigtails. The maid’s world is told from the penetrating perspective of a child who observes a problem with theft. She remembers her mother’s mucama who lasted two days, “She came with all this stuff and she left with all this stuff….that was Mom’s.”
A must-mention: The Housewife episode depicts Laske, hair in curlers, dressed in checkered housecoat, standing paralyzed, eyes half-closed. As a guest on a television interview show with female lawyers, artists and actors, the housewife is asked what she does. She responds, “Nothing.” Laske then recreates a housewife’s day by repeating the sardonic riff, “since I have nothing to do.” Then with stone-faced expression, she stoically recites all she does do, like everything, from cleaning, food shopping, meal preparation, and child care, to washing dishes and diapers. At days’ end, she falls asleep too exhausted to watch TV or read a book.
“The Birthday Party for the Jewish Mother” is, perhaps, the best example of Laske’s unpredictable twists. Laske, with a green crocheted shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders, is the iconic, warm-hearted, kvetching Jewish Mother, who sacrifices for her kids. While her children find excuses for not paying for the party, and treat her shabbily, she keeps saying, “They are so good…so good…” spoken with irony and chuzpah.
Spanish-speaking audiences will have the extra advantage of enjoying Laske’s word play, still the universal humor comes through, thanks to Perla Laske’s astonishing versatility as a performer. She is one of those rare actresses who can project pain and make it funny. Laske’s various roles helped me believe that I cannot live without a helpmate. We all need each other. That’s another way of saying: “I cannot live without a maid,” the refrain that keeps repeating throughout this delightful, masterpiece monologue.
– The play is in Spanish. Headsets available for simultaneous translation. –
Three more performances remain for I Cannot Live Without a Maid: Friday, March 9 at 8pm, Saturday, March 10 at 3pm and 8pm. All are at Gunston Arts Center – Theatre 2, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington, VA. Details and tickets
No Puedo Vivir sin Mucama (I Can’t Live Without a Maid), U.S. Premiere
Written, directed and performed by Perla Laske, from Argentina
English translation by Rei Berroa
Produced by Teatro de la Luna for “The Moon’s Embrace,” (“El Abrazo Lunar”), a festival of 4-plays from 4 different countries
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Running Time: One hour or 60 minutes without intermission.