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A CurtainUp LA Review
You may relish the originality of The Waiting Room, playwright Lisa Loomer's first production at the Mark Taper Forum which dealt with the bizarre ways women torture their bodies in the name of beauty, or empathize with the poignant search for a baby in her second, Expecting Isabel. But it's in Living Out, now having its world premiere at the Taper, that Loomer really hits her stride, striking a universal and political nerve as she follows two working families, one affluent Beverly Hills lawyers, the other illegal immigrants from San Salvador, as they try to survive and find fulfillment in this world we've made.
When Ana, newly arrived in Los Angeles with husband Bobby and younger son Santiago, goes looking for a job as a nanny, she quickly discovers she'll have to conceal the fact that she, too, has a child at home to care for. Waspy Wallace and warm funny Linda have both been burned by nannies who had too many "sick" days.
Presenting herself as the mother of two boys who are both in San Salvador, Ana lands a job caring for Jenna, the newborn of lawyers Richard and Nancy who already have conflicts in their marriage. Richard is an ACLU type and Nancy a defense attorney. Nancy needs that salary to pay the mortgage on their new expensive house but she also loves working. Ana loves working, too. One of the bonds in their difficult road to friendship is that they both admit they would be bored sitting home all day.
Nancy frets over what to call Ana ("Nanny sounds so PBS") and settles on caregiver. They're finally on a first name basis, but cultural differences abound. Nancy gives Ana extra money to buy "more comfortable clothes", translated by Ana's husband Bobby as "I told you those jeans were too tight." The differences are hilariously defined when Ana and two other caregivers meet in the park, Sandra employed by Wallace and Zoila employed by Linda. They delineate what different races are like to work for: "Chinese never talk to you." But the race they absolutely refuse to work for is their own. "I'm no slave," says Sandra at the prospect of working for a Latina.
Going back to work is also stressful for Nancy. Richard asks Ana not to tell her she missed Jenna's crawling debut and when Ana fails to mention it, Nancy is angry at them both. Contemporary allusions ground the play in its time zone.
The dark secret many of these women keep are the children they leave behind. Zoila was forced to leave her baby boy and didn't see him until he was an adult living in Houston. In a stinging monologue delivered with the control and passion of a lifetime, she tells Ana how she traveled all the way there to stay for 45 minutes and just say hello. Ana hasn't seen her older son Tomas in eight years and when they talk on the phone about his coming to Los Angeles, she's saddened to hear he doesn't recognize her in the picture she sent him and implies that he would rather stay there with his grandmother. Sandra sent her five children back to Guatemala because they were getting into gangs here.
Ana must contend with her warm and loving husband's macho demands and his delay in getting their papers until Nancy comes through with a loan which Ana pays off by working overtime. Her younger son Santiago, who suffers from asthma in the factory area where they live, is doing well at soccer. Ana looks forward to seeing him play for the first time when Nancy has a last-minute call from an important client, a French director who is her special status symbol since she is the only French-speaking lawyer in the firm. In this scene Nancy pressures Ana to baby-sit and Ana, who can't tell her about her son's existence, resists until Nancy uses the final ploy: friendship. The final scene reveals the true nature of their relationship.
The play's dramatic structure is impeccable and its powerful climax is painstakingly drawn. Loomer's flair for humor and gift for characterization are put to excellent use here.
Director Bill Rauch has a deft feel for the color, life and humor of the characters and choreographs them briskly on Christopher Acebo's remarkable set. Centered by one big reversible piece which is a couch on one side and a kitchen on the other, panels on the backdrop open to display CDs, a refrigerator, etc. Children's toys do the rest. Candice Cain's costumes say as much about the cast as the dialogue. Zilah Mendoza as Ana and Amy Aquino as Nancy anchor the fine cast. Loomer doesn't fall into the trap of making the men one-dimensional, though they're both exuberant and playful. Daniel Hugh Kelly portrays the free-spirited Richard, riding a scooter with the delight of a child. Carlos Gomez is strong and sexy as Ana's Bobby, who lacks her brains and ambition but proves himself dramatically in the final scene. Elizabeth Ruscio is delicious as the frazzled Linda, mother of twins. The role of Wallace is the only one Loomer writes as a stock character. Kate A. Mulligan does the best she can with it but its disappointing that Loomer doesn't point out that committee women are people, too. Maricela Ochoa is wonderful as the nosy vibrant Sandra and Diane Rodriguez complements the other caregivers with her strength and persistence.
But it's the mothers, Mendoza and Aquino, well matched and tremendously sympathetic, we'll remember when the curtain falls. One wants a sequel.
LINKS TO REVIEWS OF OTHER PLAYS BY lINDA lOOMER
Broken Hearts Linda
Expecting Isabel/Loomer, Lisa
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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