On a superficial level, the two women at the heart of Lisa Loomer’s elegantly crafted Living Out couldn’t be more different. Ana (Belén Oyola-Rebaza) is an undocumented nanny working to bring her 11-year-old son over from El Salvador. Nancy (Megan Behm) is a successful entertainment lawyer intent on rising through the ranks at her firm to eventually make partner. Nancy lives in posh and clean Santa Monica with her husband Richard (Kyle McGruther) and newborn baby Jenna. Ana lives with her husband Bobby (Peter Pereyra) and 6-year-old son Santiago in Huntington Park, a blue-collar city southeast of downtown L.A and downwind of the nearby factories squelching toxic smog into the air.
Nancy is rich. Ana is poor. Nancy is white. Ana is Latina.
But as director Abel López’s astutely perceptive production gradually reveals the stunning parallels between the two women’s lives, the audience is confronted by a hearkening reality: it’s society’s skewed perception of these women that invents the illusion of their dissimilarity. And that illusion is what fuels the both overt and underlying racism that keeps the two women from ever really being able to make a connection. Even when the play is funny (which is quite often) neither Loomer nor López pull any punches when it comes to the striking social issues at the heart of Living Out.
The play begins with several comic scenes featuring Ana being denied employment by Wallace and Linda, a pair of shallow Santa Monica socialites (Lisa Hodsoll and Amal Saad play up the Westside superficiality to delightful result). The vapid moms doubt Ana’s level of focus due to the fact that she has a child of her own to worry about. When being interviewed by new mother Nancy, the desperate-for-work Ana tells her that both of her children are in El Salavador. This lie sets off a humorous chain of events that eventually turns dark and leads to catastrophic consequences.
Living Out is anchored by strong performances from its leads. Oyola-Rebaza shines as the kindly and persevering Ana while Behm finesses the frazzled yet resolute Nancy into a place where she can simultaneously earn our sympathy and contempt. Their stability serves as an easel for colorful scene-stealers like Hodsoll and the heavily inked McGruther, who plays Richard with a charming, Paul Rudd-like sort of manchild exuberance. On the other end of the spectrum sits Pereyra’s delicate portrayal of the stoic, forlorn Bobby. Each husband That McGruther and Pereyra, who share the same wiry limbs and grown-out brown locks, could be each other’s doppelgängers serves as another parallel between the two wives. One memorable scene transition begins with Richard turning on the television to watch soccer and seamlessly switches so that we end up with Bobby in his living room where he watches a fütbol match of his own.
Character duality appears throughout the play in different places. One scene that features Wallace and Linda pushing strollers and gossiping about their new nannies is soon after mirrored by another featuring nannies Zoila (a very sassy Lorena Sabogal) and Sandra (the graceful Stefanie García) pushing those same strollers and gossiping about the mothers. Loomer’s riffs on repetition and irony prove helpful in shining light on issues of race, class, and gender.
Elements of the design that reflect the focus on parallels include Giorgos Tsappas’ effectively simple set dominated by two identical stucco structures representing the women’s homes. Cory Ryan Frank’s skillful lighting constantly draws the audience’s attention exactly when and where it needs to be. Meanwhile, Ivania Stack’s costumes and Brendon Vierra’s sound design evoke Los Angeles so well that you can practically smell the tacos al pastor.
Loomer’s bitingly smart script works perfectly for GALA in that it offers an engaging portrayal of the white-mother/Latina-nanny relationship not often seen outside the realm of farcical mockery. She paints Nancy as a comic character in that her behavior gets worse and worse throughout the play until she is able to rectify herself before tragedy strikes. Yet if there’s a lesson for the earnestly unaware Nancy to have learned from her ordeals, she misses it completely.
“Maybe you can never really know someone,” she says of Ana near the end of the play, ”who is so different from you.”
Ana stands as a beautifully rendered tragic figure whose station in life seems to have doomed her from the start. One might find fault in Loomer ending what had been a very funny play on such a sudden, heartbreaking note. Yet the argument needs to be made that to end on anything other than such a note would have been a disservice to the thousands of women like Ana who, unlike the Nancys of the world, don’t always get happy endings.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Living Out (Cama Afuera) is presented in English with Spanish surtitles.