Lisa Loomer wants to say something about shared experiences and unbridgeable gaps in Living Out, her bittersweet mommy-track comedy, but what she’s come up with is a kind of rough sketch outlining the limits of good intentions. At the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, though, director Wendy C. Goldberg turns in such a polished production that Loomer’s neat little liberal-guilt package seems almost profound.
Holly Twyford’s conflicted Nancy stands in for every well-meaning woman who’s ever been torn between cradle and career: She’s an L.A. entertainment lawyer headed back to the office after her first baby, nearly as anxious about being left behind professionally as she is about leaving her little girl at home with a stranger. Joselin Reyes is Ana, the Salvadoran nanny Nancy has reluctantly hired, a smart, capable woman who’s every bit as ambitious and divided as her employer: To get the job that will help her bring her older child to the States, Ana’s willing to leave her younger son at home in East L.A. with Dad while she takes care of another mother’s infant. Loomer understands that compromise comes built into every choice—just ask Ana and Nancy’s husbands (Michael Ray Escamilla and David Fendig), who get to learn where halfway is located—and if that isn’t the most original of observations, she builds the situations and ironies of Living Out craftily enough that most audiences won’t mind.
Even those who do will surrender to the play’s broadly comic parallel plot, which finds Ana paying regular daytime visits to a park where other brown-skinned women gather with their pale-faced charges, mocking their employers’ privileged eccentricities—tofu and processed sugar make big targets—and needling each other about everything from wages to whether driving an Altima is the mark of a nanny with pretensions. (Socorro Santiago’s Zoila steals most of these sequences with an earthy, infectious irascibility.) Soon enough, the nannies exit and their bosses arrive, to engage in bouts of carefully casual maternal one-upmanship: “You get in the right Mommy and Me, and you get in the right preschool,” says Chandler Vinton’s ruthlessly solicitous socialite, who’s the sort who can quit her museum job to stay home with the baby, then hire a nanny anyway. Unthinking prejudices, unchallenged assumptions, and shallow stabs at cultural analysis prevail on both sides of the employer-employee divide; credit Loomer with being perceptive enough to see the ridiculousness in both camps. And salute Goldberg for staging comic and sober sequences alike with smooth confidence and impeccable timing.
Twyford is hilariously brittle, and she labors mightily to put some heart in a character cut a little too cleanly out of comedy-writer cardboard. Reyes, for her part, diligently excavates the stubbornness (and yes, the self-interest) that underlies Ana’s seemingly noble sacrifices. There’s consistently superb work from the ensemble, including Susan Lynskey as a harried mom and Elise Santora as the nanny who knows firsthand the limits of her employer’s liberalism. Even James Kronzer’s rotating puzzle of a set has something to say about overlapping lives and the gulfs that can yawn between two people in the same room. So when Living Out arrives at the sad conclusion it’s been signaling since the opening scenes, you’ll be ready enough to forgive the tidy predictability of its conflicts.
Leave it to Robert McNamara’s Scena Theatre to present a sociopolitical farce involving an ill-matched royal couple, a state-sanctioned murder, and a rather large pike.
Polish pre-Absurdist Witold Gombrowicz offers, in an offbeat anti-Hamlet titled Ivona, Princess of Burgundia, the idea that difference and wretchedness make the mainstream so uncomfortable because they somehow implicate it: Ivona, the unattractively miserable princess whose oddities so unnerve the play’s circus-clown courtiers, must be dispatched precisely because while she’s around no one can push her unpleasantness entirely out of mind.
Svetlana Tikhonov makes a magnetic (and far from unattractive) Ivona; Christopher Henley is the prince who torments first her and then himself with his evolving reactions to her strangeness. Christine Herzog’s queen, Irina Koval’s hilariously mannered lady-in-waiting, Tel Monks’ unctuous chamberlain, and Kim Curtis’ queer house elf of a harlequin all get moments of spotlight-hogging hilarity, though McNamara’s lively production can’t quite get around the play’s repetitive second half, in which everyone schemes to eliminate Ivona and then fails to act (at least until Monks’ sage adviser realizes that time-honored social forms can be employed to assure the princess’ public demise). Still, the production is as confident about its stylized silliness as Gombrowicz is in his stern assessment of the weak-minded masses—and hearing the Scena crew deliver 70-year-old lines along the lines of “Everybody sees through everything these days,” you’ve gotta wonder if postmodern disenchantment is really so post-.CP