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A CurtainUp Review
Living Out

Everyone's working and paying someone else to take care of their child. . . in a couple of years we can hire a nanny from Iraq
---Richard Robin, when the Salvadoran nanny's own child care problems create chaos in his family's as well as her life.
udith Hawking, Kathryn Meisle,  Kelly Coffield Park
Judith Hawking, Kathryn Meisle, Kelly Coffield Park (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Don't let the fact that Lisa Loomer's Living Out is tagged as a comedy fool you. While you will indeed often find yourself laughing out loud, you're also likely to leave the theater all choked up. Neil Patel's cheery orange and turquoise blue set may evoke visions of California orange trees and sunny blue skies, but there are plenty of dark clouds lurking beneath the bright facade. In short, Living Out is a comedy, but one that is written in jet black ink. Like The Waiting Room, Expecting Isabel and Broken Hearts: A B.H. Mystery , it corroborates Ms. Loomer's ability to mix large doses of humor with more serious personal and social concerns. The abundance of sharp and amusing dialogue will keep you consistently entertained and helps most of the play's eight characters to emerge as real people who engage us emotionally.

The story had its premiere in Los Angeles where it takes place, a city bustling with Latino immigrants, many with illegal status or struggling to obtain green cards or citizenship. But these immigrants are also very much in evidence in cities like New York and the child care needs that have interlinked the lives of affluent "Anglo " career women with those on the lower rung of the economic ladder who leave their own children to care for theirs should resonate with Second Stage audiences as it did with those who saw the LA production.

Liza Colon-Zayas, , Zilah Mendoza, Maria Elena Ramirez
Liza Colon-Zayas, , Zilah Mendoza, Maria Elena Ramirez (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Wherever you live and whether you're a working parent or not, you'll be bowled over by Zilah Mendoza's touching and valiant Ana Hernandez, one of three Latino nannies whose stories are interwoven with those of their upscale employers. Mendoza, the only carry-over from the original Mark Taper production, is fortunate to once again find herself supported by an outstanding cast and a director who knows how to smoothly steer them through the terrain of comedy and heartbreak. The new creative team is also excellent, and aids the scene shifting between Ana's home and that of her employers (Kathryn Meisle and Joseph Urla), as well as a park bench with great style and not a smidgen of fussy prop movements.

Kathryn Meisle is a perfect choice as Ana's boss Nancy, an entertainment lawyer who's afraid that an extended maternity leave will derail her career to a glass-ceilinged mommy track. In different circumstances these two women, both more ambitious and focused than their husbands, would be friends rather than employer and employee. The play pivots around these women, but Loomer also does well by their men, both of whom are as needy and demanding as their children -- and yet loving and loveable.

Since Laura Hitchcock detailed Loomer's plot in her review of the Taper production (the review), I'll recap the key events just briefly: Ana is a Salvadoran immigant desperate to obtain legal status so that she can bring the 11-year-old son she left behind to the US. The 6-year-old living with her and her loving but full of machismo husband Bobby (Gary Perez ) has worrisome asthma attacks. She is bright, speaks English, has excellent references; in short an ideal nanny. As the two interviews that get things going make clear, however, no one wants to hire a woman whose own children's needs are likely to cause absenteeism. And so, after the mention of her own child results in quickly aborted interviews with two very different moms -- super-organized and controlling Wallace Breyer (Judith Hawking) and somewhat ditzy Linda Billings Farzam (Kelly Coffield Park) -- Ana pretends that both her children are in San Salvador and promptly gets hired by Nancy.

The three interviews, besides setting the scene for the complications that follow Ana's lie, also establish the collective attitudes that shape the employer-employee relationships and the different but similar financial difficulties in both Ana and Nancy's marriages. Though Nancy and Ana are the real flesh and blood people we come to care about, Loomer makes the other two mothers as well as the two nannies they end up hiring funny enough to forgive their stereotypical characterizations. The Wallace Breyer character is almost irredeemably caricaturish but Liza Colon-Zayas invests her nanny, Zoila Terzo, with feeling as well as zestfully delivered laugh lines and Elena Ramirez movingly encapsulates all the pain of a mother who did not see the son she was forced to leave as a baby until a brief hello and goodbye meeting when he was grown up and living in Texas. The distancing effect of long separations is echoed in a scene where Ana during a phone conversation with her son in San Salvador realizes that he know longer has a clear image of what she looks like.

Living Out does not offer any original insights or solutions to the politics of immigration and the problems of contemporary working mothers across the social and economic spectrum. Its charm and substance stems from Loomer's ability to write an issue play that doesn't preach or take sides, funny dialogue that's also poignant -- and to give us a character like Ana Hernandez who we don't want to leave without knowing that she will be okay.

Living Out-- Los Angeles Production
Broken Hearts
Expecting Isabel

Living Out
Written by Lisa Loomer
Directed by Joe Bonney
Cast: Kathryn Meisle, Zilah Mendoza, Liza Colon-Zayas, Judith Hawking, Kelly Coffield Park, Gary Perez, Maria Elena Ramirez, Joseph Urla.
Set Design: Neil Patel
Costume Design: Emilio Sosa
Lighting Design: David Weiner
Sound Design: John Gramada
Dialects: Stephen Gabis
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission
Second Stage, 307 W. 43rd St., 212-246-4422
9/09/03 to 11/02/03; opening 9/30/03.
Tue at 7pm; Wed - Sat at 8pm; Wed & Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm.
Tickets,$55. Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 9/26 press performance

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