It takes more than a mother and father to raise a child. So when well-educated women feel the call to work outside their homes, who cares for the kids? Easy: Hire an immigrant.
Playwright Lisa Loomer moves in for closer scrutiny of a hired Hispanic nanny, her family, and a high-powered, politically-liberal leaning, yuppie L.A. couple, in Living Out/Cama Afuera, written in 2003.
Get ready for the first surprise in this razor-witted comedy, full of ironic twists, right up to the breathless end. Living Out is performed in English with Spanish surtitles. Whatever the language, Loomer shatters stereotypes with some great laugh lines; but ultimately breaks your heart. What I loved about Loomer’s depiction of cultural mishaps underneath polite surfaces is that her satire cuts deeper than any television sitcom, in its balance. It confronts today’s economically strapped society, and thanks to a brilliant cast, throbs with real people, beyond caricature. Here’s one example: Kyle McGruther, new to the GALA company, plays Richard, the politically-liberal, newbie father, who cries out: “Everyone’s working and paying someone else to take care of their child– it’s insane! It’s insane people have to leave their families to come to this country–“.
But let’s back up from that climactic moment of truth and face it. It takes more than a father and a mother to raise a child. Long-distance parenting doesn’t work. Immigrants working as caregivers raising other people’s children also have families to care for.
A dazzling set design by Giorgos Tsappas gives us the contrast of two realities. The interiors of two stucco houses, painted warm, ochre-yellow, stand side-by-side. One reveals an inside room with a dangling, stylish light fixture, that illuminates an abstract painting. Elegant spherical sculptures displayed downstage, symbolize the rest of the house. On the other side of the stage, a naked light bulb hangs from a cord within a room interior that illuminates a simple, folksy crucifix on the wall. Two life styles, two classes, upper and lower, for master and servant, are in contrast, aided by a dynamic lighting design on stucco that bleeds from pale yellows to bright red by Cory Ryan Frank. A perfect backdrop for a well-honed GALA company, with lots of fresh, new faces, to cut loose and deliver heart-rending, deeply convincing performances.
Sensitively directed by Abel López, simultaneous realities flow seamlessly. Over all, it’s a dream team of a cast. It is as if López waved a magic wand and set his players free to interact spontaneously with overlapping lines, two conversations at one time, from parallel existences. From stage-left, Ana Hernandez, played by the wonderfully vibrant Belén Oyola-Rebaza, says, joyfully, “I got a job!”, to her macho, unemployed, construction-worker husband, Bobby, given a solid portrayal by Peter Pereyra. From the other side of the stage, Nancy Robin, an entertainment attorney, (Megan Behm, making her debut) says to her public defender husband, Richard (Kyle McGruther), “I hired a nanny!” Two sets of parents, from two classes, from different cultures, appear to have made a good deal. One needs a job and the other, someone to take care of their child. Sounds perfect, right?
Not at all. Later, Nancy worries about what to call Ana— “a caretaker”? No, “caregiver.”? And Ana regrets the time spent away from her own child.
Undocumented, Ana, who studied to become a dentist in El Salvador before their civil war, needs money to help support Bobby, also awaiting citizenship papers and to bring in a second son, Tomás. The couple already have a six-year-old son, Sanchez, living with them. We never meet “Sanchi” on stage. But through the couple’s dialogue, we feel his presence. Sanchez plays soccer, like the famous Argentine Maradona, according to Bobby. After losing out on nanny jobs with two mothers, who only want caregivers without children of their own, Ana covers up the truth and lies to get the job.
From that point on, Living Out develops quickly from one illuminating moment to the next with effortless spontaneity. Some of funniest moments expose the positive and negative American attitudes toward Hispanic women and vice versa. Lisa Hodsoll, another newcomer to the GALA stage, as Wallace, commands the stage as the super-gracious, supercilious, control-freak mom, obsessed with stylish diaper bags and NannyCams, cameras to record the nanny alone with the children. Amal Saade, also new to GALA, through her frenetic delivery as Linda, captures the anxious phobias about the invasion of Hispanic culture. “I think a second language– in this city– it’s just– well, it’s like a car really– it’s just great.” The cultural differences, such as arriving on time or attitudes toward tofu fads and sugar-free diets, are also recognizable.
Cultural misunderstandings multiply. Welcome back Lorena Sabogal, who has acted in many GALA productions and brings down the house with her well-timed, funny, earthy barbs, as the reliable Zoila, who has five kids in Guatemala. “I do not work for Latinos. I am no slave,” she wisecracks. Yet, Zoila after bringing two of her kids to the U.S. sent them back, after they got involved in L.A. gangs. “This is no place to raise kids.” Her high point moment of revelation comes when she realizes she prefers living out (that is outside her employer’s home) to living in.
Closes May 18, 2014
GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
2 hours with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Living Out builds to an ironic, powerful, tragic ending. The central characters have grown, changed, learned about the importance of putting parental care of children first. But the spotlight belongs to Ana’s last moment, played with soft-pedaled, emotional power and nuance by Belén Oyola-Rebaza. It’s Ana who is the central focus of the play’s message. The last scene will leave you crying and cheering.
Once again, the GALA team produces powerhouse theatre. Living Out has lingering power. It’s more than a lesson for life. It’s an exalting experience. Just go!
Living Out is performed in English, with translated Spanish surtitles by Gustavo Ott.
Living Out/Cama Afuera by Lisa Loomer . Directed by Abel López . Featuring Belén Oyola-Rebaza, Megan Malone Behm, Lorena Sabogal, Peter Pereyra, Stefanie García, Lisa Hodsoll, Kyle McGruther, and Amal Saad . Set design: Giorgos Tsappas . Lighting design: Cory Frank Ryan . Costumes: Ivania Stack . Sound Design: Brendon Vierra . Properties: Pam Weiner . Stage Manager: Lena Salins . Production Manager: Anna Bate . Producer for GALA: Hugo Medrano . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.