nytheatre.com review by Nancy Kim
July 18, 2008
The professional titles vary—babysitter, caregiver, or domestic worker—but the most pre-judged and loaded of them all is perhaps the title of "nanny." As performer Lisa Ramirez jokes at the top of her remarkable one-woman show Exit Cuckoo, a reliable conversation-stopper at parties is to announce that one is a nanny. What does not stop, though, is the effect of watching this well-written and performed piece by the confident and gifted Ramirez.
A ceiling-high backdrop shows various strollers and baby accoutrements fossilized under plaster (co-designed by Ji-Youn Chang and Lauren Rockman). Generations from now, when cultural anthropologists begin to excavate the systems of human relationships, what conclusions will be made about the role of child care and the changing definition of mothers in our present society? As a former nanny herself, Ramirez unearths the specifically personal feelings of the women involved, and also, daringly, takes on an investigation of the political implications of the globalization and nanny-industrial complex of child care.
A series of monologues by interconnected characters powerfully reveals the many different issues taking place. Starting at Kids First Domestics, a nanny agency, Ramirez approaches Mrs. Sinclair, head of the agency, to find work while waiting for her acting career to take off. A breed of the fast-speaking and impatient career woman, Mrs. Sinclair unapologetically reveals the privileging of race when she lists the nanny preferences for different ethnic groups over time—e.g., Tibet was in for awhile—while continually reminding the anxious mothers over the phone that American girls are in demand but highly unreliable. Ramirez herself is in the ironic position of having a Latin-sounding last name but her mixed European identity is flouted as desirable to the mothers.
As Ramirez is dispatched to different families to fill in as a temporary nanny, we meet women with differing attitudes: Rosa, embittered by the ungrateful mother she works for, feels no qualms about walking away from the family; Jane, a single working mother, confesses much guilt about leaving her child to a nanny who witnesses all the significant childhood moments; and one nanny who is sacked for not being "stimulating" enough plaintively reveals the hard dilemma of having to raise other women's children in order to provide for the children left behind in her native country. Summing up the situation best, Ramirez describes: "...two women in the same house who don't know each other with a child in the middle."
Ramirez is a fine observer of character, and compliments the stories in this world with that of her own journey as an artist and the fraught relationship with her own mother, which only deepen the ideas of motherhood, sacrifice, and the many variations in who and what needs care and who is ultimately responsible for it.
Director May Adrales does a wonderful job of guiding the journey beginning to end. Exit Cuckoo makes its world-premiere production at this festival and should be Ramirez's calling card for audience and theatres to take notice.