Sunday, January 18, 2004

Play: The Little Hostages

Living Out written by Lisa Loomer, Directed by Sharon Ott, Seattle Rep Theatre.

I think its no secret that I’m not terribly comfortable with babies. I don’t dislike them - I find them sweet and soft and gurgle-filled, and there is no creature on the planet that looks cuter when drooling. But I’m always fearful of how fragile they are, and if they’re comfortable when I hold them, and what happens if they cry when I hold them, and all that. Part of it is a case of over-protectiveness, in which I want to keep them safe from the clumsiest thing in the area – which usually me.

[Kate, on the other hand, is a master at baby-wrangling. Given a room full of people, a small baby, and Kate, within five minutes she’ll be holding the small baby. I have seen this happen at offices. I have seen this happen at parties. I have seen this happen on airplanes. She is fearless, and of course, babies sense that and trust her completely.]

The reason I mention all this is the play Living Out, at the Rep, which deals with the problem of work and family. In particular, people who hire women to look after their kids, often women who have kids of their own. Its the balance of employment and children for all sides, and the madening frustration of a society that grants, to quote one characters badly "The ability to do it all but to not do any of it well".

So there are babies and children in the play, and the theme of the play is watching over them. The economy of plays states that if you mention a gun in act I, then its going to be fired by act III. So I have a feeling of dread because, under the law of how plays operate, you KNOW something bad is going to happen, and there are such a plethora of small potential victims. How dare the playwrite, thinks I, put these small (fictional) children at risk? How dare you hold them hostage? So I went in with a feeling of unease.

Which is a pity, because this is a extremely well-written and well-acted play that underscores both the divide of family and work, and the great divide of wealth and poverty in this country. Stephanie Diaz play Ana, an El Salvadorian woman working as a nanny for more wealthy white Angelenos. Ana has two kids in turn, one in El Salvador with her grandmother, and the other here in the states by her new husband. To get work, she tells her new employer that both children are in El Salvador, and that simple lie spins things out as Ana tries to serve both her natural family and her employer's family.

Lisa Loomer's writing is natural, and her characters are human, even the broadest of them. The conflicts are very, very human, and the arguments, when they come, are completely believable - sliding all over the place. Its got great lines and solid laughs. Yeah, solid laughs - its a comedy, but in that hyphenated school of serio-comedy or tragi-comdedy or socio-comedy. Which means - don't get too comfortable, its not going to end well. Which is sort of the spectre that hangs over the entire proceedings - if children are involved, someone's going to be hurt.

And of course I am taken in. I come to care about these characters - they are well-shaped by the playwrite, and well-rounded by the actors. This was a top-flight cast, top to bottom, and in addition to Ms. Diaz, kudos to Julie Briskman, who has become a Rep Veteran, a friendly face to the audience. Ms. Briskman reaches out as the Ana's well-meaning, harried, occasionally clueless but deeply human employer. The directing was also amazingly smooth, using an open stage to shift between households and unite Ana's two families on one stage.

This was a good one. Its got a short run, so go see it now.

More later,