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Woman's Work

Exploring the mommy-nanny dynamic in 'Living Out'

By Rob Pratt

TheatreWorks takes on the American economy in a gentle-though-compelling way with a sharp production of a new play about women who work to support a family. Lisa Loomer's Living Out, running through Oct. 31 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, extends a theatrical examination of the national workplace that TheatreWorks began last season with a staged adaptation of Barbara Ehrenreich's bestselling study of low-wage work, Nickel and Dimed. Loomer's play, however, tells a more impassioned story based on real-world circumstances, and the result—while still delivering a strong message about wages and working conditions in the world's most affluent nation—is a heartbreaking tale of cultural misunderstanding.

Like Upton Sinclair during the early part of the 20th century, Loomer uses a traditional literary form to ask big social questions with immediate relevance. Living Out is a rare work of theater that manages to dramatize issues of national importance—the sweeping changes in social patterns that arise from America's shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy—with a nuanced look at the people who struggle to cope with them.

Isabelle Ortega turns in a solid performance as Ana, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador struggling to support her husband and youngest son and to bring her oldest son to America from their homeland. Ortega negotiates Ana's tricky challenge—to befriend the family who has hired her as a nanny while veiling the difficulties of her situation—with an appealing self-confidence. Ana's employer, Nancy, played with a deft comic touch by Rebecca Dines, returns to a position in a high-powered entertainment law firm after having her first child. The parallel struggles of these driven women supply Loomer with the play's central tension and with an elegant illustration of the difficult compromises faced by women on both sides of the widening divide among families that have more and those that have less.

In addition to perfectly casting the leads, director Armando Molina has assembled a fine supporting cast, including Jackson Davis as Nancy's husband, Richard, who delivers many of the play's most memorable comic moments. Sound designer Gregory Robinson creates a clever spatial effect between scenes. Sound bites from National Public Radio's morning show or from daytime music radio programming bookend scene changes. Robinson closes scenes with audio booming from the theater's main speakers and opens by cross-fading the mains to a kitchen radio onstage. The technique and the audio that Robinson and Molina chose for the changes add up to a delightful surprise for the ears and an entirely appropriate device for the milieu of the play.

Lighting designer Pamela Gray doesn't fare so well. Most of Gray's looks are featureless, and a number of opportunities to create effects relevant to the story are missed or diminished by incomplete or ambiguous execution. Set designer Erik Sinkkonen's spare and monochromatic set, done in stainless steel and richly stained woods like the kitchen in an upscale home, generally looks good despite the unflattering lighting.


Living Out, a TheatreWorks production, plays Tuesday (Oct. 19 only) at 7:30pm, Wednesday­Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 2 (except Oct. 30) and 7pm (except Oct. 24 and 31) through Oct. 31 at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $20­$50. (650.903.6000)


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From the October 13-19, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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