by Lisa Loomer
Directed by Lois Roach
Lyric Stage Co at Copley Sq. YWCA
140 Clarendon St. Boston / (617) 437-7172
Through Apr. 23

Reviewed by Will Stackman

The humorous but potentially tragic situations that women in today's society can get mired in have been the basis for playwright and screenwriter Lisa Loomer's work for the past decade. Living Out, which was commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum and premiered there about a year ago takes up the childcare dilemma. Though specifically about the situation in L.A., where professional couples hire immigrant women, mostly Latino, often undocumented and underpaid under the table, to care for their children while both parents pursue careers, the show has had success in cities around the country. Often mothers themselves, these "nannies" must put the needs, desires, and preferences of their employers ahead of their own families. Loomer, who started out as a comic, knows how to find the humor in a situation, but as a social critic, she's also aware of the inequalities and dangers inherent in such arrangements.

The drama centers around Ana Hernandez, a refuge from the violence in El Salvador. Mariela Lopez-Ponce, who's been seen most recently for Chelsea Theatre Works and Company One, gives an intense portrayal of this woman determined to support provide for her family and bring her older son to this country. Luis Negron, who appeared in Speakeasy's "Our Lady of 121st St." plays her macho husband Booby, unable to find steady work because of immigration difficulties. Ana finds work tending the newborn child of Nancy Robin, played by Rachel Harker, last seen in "Quills" at the New Rep. But to get the job, she tells the new mother, an up-and-coming entertainment lawyer, that both her sons are with her grandmother in El Salvador. Back for his fifth show at the Lyric, versatile Dale Place is Nancy's free-spirited husband, a dedicated--and therefore underpaid--public defender. The stresses on the lives of these two couples trying to raise children in the hectic urban environment play out in counterpoint. Each couple is believable, and probably drawn from the life experiences of the actors. Lopez-Ponce, who's playing a woman who was training to be a dentist before civil unrest drove her out of the country, is an electrical engineer and a mother with a eight year old daughter, besides acting and directing. Harker has two sons, a young daughter, and plays with repertory theatres around New England while her husband, Rick Lombardo, is the Artistic Director of the New Rep. Place and Negron may have it a bit easier, but not much, with professional schedules that can get hectic.

The comic relief for the play is provided by Jen Alison Lewis and Lisa Tucker as two mothers Ana seeks work with first, plus Nelida Torres-Colon and Elaine D. Theodore as the nannies they hired instead. The latter two have extended scenes in Spanish which work surprisingly well, even in Boston. Lewis holds down the fort in the StageSource office when not acting or caring for her toddler; Tucker is a founding member of the Beau Jest Theatre, which has been creating unique shows since 1984. Torres-Colon, a speech and language pathologist for Boston's school system and a founding member of the city's Escena Latina Theatre Group is Puerto Rican, from PhiladelphiA. Theodore, who was heard last fall in Speakeasy's "Company" singing a mile a minute, has a MA in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard. This chorus of actresses brings their own special experiences to "Living Out". There's a sense that for all the women in the cast, this show has some sort of special resonance, which adds to the drama and comedy onstage.

The resulting ensemble would not be possible without award-winning director Lois Roach. She artfully arranges the segues between the Robin's house, a "fixer-upper" in Santa Monica where the air is clearer and Ana apartment on the edge of the barrio in smoggy East L.A. Then there's the neutral ground of a neighborhood park where all the women meet at some point. All this action takes place on Brynna Bloomfield's unit set, which is primarily at the Robin's, but also serves as Ana's kitchen stage left and the park down center when needed. The theatricality of selected realism is handled quite expertly, with the help of Eleanor Moore's fluid lighting. Further continuity comes from Dewey Dellay's soundscape which includes atmospheric sounds, baby cries, and original music. Costumer Jane Hillier-Walkowski has selected clothing and accessories that complete the characters and brighten the scene. Stagecraft, acting and direction to bring this rather complex script together for an all too believable conclusion.

The Lyric has done a number of politically conscious comedies in the past few seasons, but the social implications of "Living Out"--a term incidentally which refers to child care workers who come into the home--are far more relevant than usual. Loomer's stage plays haven't been seen much in Boston, though her screenplay for "Girl Interrupted" was duly noted. Based on this production, more should be seen here soon, if not downtown then perhaps at the Theatre Coop on Broadway, in Somerville across town.
** In the middle of the run, versatile Julia Jirosek stepped in for Rachel Harker.

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