- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

We’ve been through infertility and adoption (“Expecting Isabel”) and how women suffer in the name of beauty (“The Waiting Room”) with playwright Lisa Loomer. Her latest work, “Living Out,” takes on the prickly, singular relationship between mothers and immigrant nannies.

Brightly and tartly staged by Round House under the direction of Wendy C. Goldberg, “Living Out,” is disquieting drama masquerading as comedy.

Part-glib sitcom one-liners and part heart-rending tragedy, the play centers on a personal story between two women that stretches out to larger issues about race, privilege, citizenship and belonging.

Holly Twyford plays the conflicted Nancy Robin, a high-powered entertainment lawyer who has a supportive husband, Richard (David Fendig), a house on the “good” side of town and a new baby named Jenna. All she needs, according to her affected friends Wallace (Chandler Vinton) and Linda (Susan Lynskey), is the right nanny.

Wallace and Linda — brilliantly portrayed by Miss Vinton and Miss Lynskey — come off like two Valley Girls whose biological clocks are permanently set to “me time.”

Wallace is the brittle trophy wife who wears her offspring as if they are cute accessories. Linda, on the other hand, is a rich neo-hippie California girl full of twinkly good vibrations.

Their days are filled with trips to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, yoga class, and dealing with children named Jackson and Jasmine. They lack nothing, except compassion for anyone who happens to be further down the social ladder.

And that would be their nannies Zoila (Socorro Santiago) and Sandra (Elise Santora), obsequious around their employers but hilariously deprecating and knowing when they are with the other domestics in the park.

Miss Santiago is a scream as the laconic, fed-up Zoila, who cusses a blue streak in her free time but speaks in a babyish coo in the cell phone to Wallace.

These women know what to reveal (that they can read and drive) and what to conceal (that they have their own children to raise) in order to survive as nannies and reach that mecca of making more than $10 an hour.

They are soon joined by Nancy’s new nanny, Ana Hernandez (Joselin Reyes), a Salvadorean seeking citizenship so that the son left back in Central America can come to the United States. In addition to her husband, Bobby (Michael Ray Escamilla), she has a younger son here, but keeps that information from Nancy.

The two worlds collide in a nifty revolving set by James Kronzer, a merry-go-round of tony earth-toned woods and fabrics that serve as Nancy and Ana’s houses and the neutral ground of the park.

While Wallace and Linda are sparkly types, the character of Nancy is more nuanced. Her relationship with Ana is complex, going beyond the scenario of evil boss versus put-upon domestic.

Granted, Nancy and Richard do take advantage of Ana, asking her to work overtime and weekends without giving a thought to the fact that she may have a life outside their house.

Yet, as played by Miss Twyford with high-beam intelligence and hectic charm, Nancy is conflicted, torn between her love for her child and the depression that would surely engulf her if she were to be a stay-at-home mother.

Her feelings of giddiness over landing a new client are balanced with palpable glee over Jenna’s every move and facial expression.

Ana is another beautifully shaded character, caught between being “seen” and being invisible. To her husband and fellow nannies, Ana is vibrant and alive, an individual with personality traits and quirks.

However, much of L.A. society — including Nancy and Richard — fails to see Ana as an equal human being. She is a useful shadow, someone who is “not our kind, dear.” But this quality of “otherness” is echoed in Sandra’s warning not to get too close to the gringo mothers. “They are not like us,” she tells Ana.

Viewing Ana and her fellow nannies as aliens has tragic consequences in the second half of “Living Out,” which grows somber after a high-flying, hilarious first act.

In a way it is a set-up, since Miss Loomer provides a glossy, frantically funny look at stressed moms, resentful domestics and compromised husbands in the first act, and no foreshadowing for the emotional wallop that nearly swamps the play near the end.

What happens is every parent’s nightmare, a downbeat and guilt-struck ending to a play previously filled with insight and bristling humor. The fallout from the relationship between Nancy and Ana haunts you, but you are still left feeling as if you’ve been sucker punched.

The acting is top-notch throughout, from Mr. Fendig as the geeky, well-intentioned Richard and Mr. Escamilla as the tenderhearted Bobby, to Miss Santora’s beguiling and resourceful Sandra.

For the most part, “Living Out” is a biting look at women who try to do it all or have it all — only to have society slap them down in ways both subtle and brutal.

***

WHAT: “Living Out” by Lisa Loomer

WHERE: Round House Bethesda, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Oct. 10.

TICKETS: $28 to $45

PHONE: 240/644-1100

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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