Living Out at Seattle Repertory Theatre
Also see David's review of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Playwright Lisa Loomer's Living Out is a seriocomic look at childcare issues in the United States (particularly Los Angeles) and the lies we all tell to accommodate getting what we want. Despite essentially solid direction by Sharon Ott and a well chosen, talented cast, Loomer's script plays out as a Lifetime TV movie waiting to happen, rife with pat situations and predictable twists.
The two protagonists are Ana, a bright, feisty, ambitious young wife and mother of two from El Salvador, whose greatest desire is to bring her elder son to America, and Nancy, a warm-hearted but tightly wound and equally ambitious new mother who wants to go back to her career as a lawyer. After Ana, who is an illegal immigrant, loses out on two possible nanny positions due to being forthcoming about having a child of her own to look after, she omits this information and scores the job with Nancy and her husband, despite misgivings from Ana's own husband, who fears their son will be neglected while Ana looks after someone else's child. .
Loomer's cleverest device in the script is setting up scenes in a park where Ana and two fellow Latina nannies (who got the jobs Ana missed out on) commiserate while taking their young charges out, contrasting with meetings between Nancy and the other two employers in the same park. But Loomer missteps by making the other nannies fallible yet likable people, while making the other two employers a caricatured pampered bitch and overwhelmed airhead. She undermines the strength and intelligence of Nancy's character by allowing her to be susceptible to advice from her peers, such as rigging a Nanny-cam video device inside a stuffed animal to spy on Ana. The laughs in the show are at the level of an above-par TV sitcom, but then the storm clouds gather, and Ana's lies and Nancy's needs result in an utterly predictable tragedy. What should have been a moving close to the story leaves one oddly indifferent to either of the women.
The actors give far better than the script gives them. Stephanie Diaz is positively charming, warm and centered as Ana, certainly the best defined character in Loomer's script. Much of the best and most honest comedy in the play comes from Julie Briskman's perfectly pitched turn as Nancy, whom she makes engaging even when the character is into her "nanny espionage" mission. Diaz and Briskman also achieve a wonderfully natural quality with their stage spouses, Ricardo Antonio Chavira and Paul Morgan Stetler, respectively. Chavira is quite touching as the compassionate Latino husband who hasn't let hard knocks embitter him, while Stetler conveys the sweet-natured frustration of a man nearing middle age who harkens back to a simpler time in his life and marriage.
Ana's fellow nannies are vividly enacted by Minerva Garcia as the sympathetic Sandra and Maria Elena Ramirez as the crusty, older Zoila. Ramirez steals a few scenes in her seemingly solicitous, secretly contentious phone calls with her enervating employer. That employer, the haughty Wallace, would be a mere sketch of a role in the hands of a lesser actress than the always engaging Liz McCarthy, and Leslie Law as the dotty Linda also makes lemonade out of her lemon of a role.
All in all, with so many better new scripts out there, it is hard to understand what drew Sharon Ott and the Rep to Living Out. With actors as good as this available it seems a criminal waste of their talent and the audiences time.
Living Out plays at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street at Seattle Center, through January 31. For further information visit the Rep online at www.seattlerep.org.