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The international kerfuffle stirred up last December by the arrest of an Indian diplomat for visa fraud provoked a lot of handwringing over her alleged mistreatment—she was strip-searched by a U.S. Marshal—and its impact on U.S.-India relations, and very little handwringing over her alleged victim: a domestic worker whom she had been forcing to work 100 hours a week for what amounted to $1.50 an hour.
Here in D.C., a town with a lot of domestic workers and a lot of international officials with diplomatic immunity and culturally subjective ideas about what constitutes labor exploitation, these types of stories tend to pop up every few years. Had it been set here, Gala Theatre’s nanny dramedy Living Out might have been about a woman working for an International Monetary Fund or embassy official who confiscates her passport and locks her in a bathroom all day.
Instead, Living Out is set in L.A., and its very L.A. concerns—air quality, traffic on the 110, what your car says about you—keeps things more lighthearted than that, at least most of the time. It’s a delicate thing to find comedy in the situation Living Out examines, given the vulnerability of its subjects: immigrants—women, mostly without papers—caring for the children of people much wealthier than they are, often neurotic control freaks.
Playwright Lisa Loomer manages to do so with sensitivity, if not always subtlety. The story centers on Ana, a live-out (as opposed to live-in) nanny and Salvadoran migrant working for a married American couple, both lawyers. The dialogue is snappy and engaging, and Loomer keeps it from being too social-justicey by making Nancy and Richard, Ana’s employers, sympathetic: liberal yuppies preoccupied with their baby but trying to do right by Ana. Thus the humor is mostly of the well-worn liberal yuppie variety (how many jokes about yoga and tofu can a play make? Not enough, it seems) and similarly well-worn culture-clash territory (the nannies marvel over how many gringos name their babies Jackson). But satirically, it never gets too biting or preachy. “I prefer the east side, it’s more soulful,” says the doofy but kindhearted Richard, and just when you’re expecting him to say something worse, it’s on to the next scene.
Thanks to Living Out’s quick pacing, both clichés and moments for reflection whizz right by you. For the most part though, the banter feels natural, thanks to good performances by Belén Oyola-Rebaza as Ana and Amal Saade’s and Kyle McGruther’s Nancy and Richard; there’s also a brilliant monologue by an otherwise bit character, Stefanie García’s Sandra, a riveting personal story that could be a play unto itself. Ana’s own home life is explored in tandem with that of her employers in a clever bit of mirrored storytelling (both also have their respective support groups) that feels a little too pat at first: Rich or poor, employer or employee, white or brown, we’re all in the same boat! Until the play reminds you, appropriately, that we’re really not.