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Exit Cuckoo

Lisa Ramirez's solo play about her experience as a nanny benefits from the clear ring of truth, but lacks dramatic tension.

Lisa Ramirez in Exit Cuckoo
(© Carel DiGrappa)
"Try it at a party the next time someone asks what you do for a living. Say I'm a nanny. It's a real conversation killer." So quips Lisa Ramirez in Exit Cuckoo, the autobiographical solo show she wrote and currently performs at The Harold Clurman Theatre. Although its depiction of the world of modern-day Manhattan nannying benefits from the clear ring of truth, the 90-minute work is only partly successful as a dramatic piece due to a pat, preachy ending and a lack of overarching narrative tension.

After arriving in Manhattan from San Francisco with her sights set on working as an actress, Ramirez soon found herself at a nanny agency looking to make ends meet. What began as a temp job, however, quickly became her career by default, as the demands of caregiving soon made the pursuit of acting work impossible.

Ramirez plays not only her increasingly frustrated self but many of the women she encountered in her daily life, almost all of whom are either fellow nannies or employers. And if the gallery of characters seems initially to have limited potential to surprise -- there's a guilt-ridden working mother who is almost apologetic for needing a nanny at all, predictably balanced by another depressed, spoiled one who holes up in her room to abandon the doldrums of maternal responsibility to the hired help -- Ramirez is able to bring each to credible, encapsulated life.

Under Colman Domingo's fluid direction, she portrays each of the women in their turn with a minimum of adjustment to costume, often using just a single prop to reveal character. For example, a small stylish handbag dangled from the hand of one mom reveals much about the character's moneyed lifestyle while also serving as a symbol of the power dynamic in her relationship to the nanny.

The play also underlines some of the social ironies and peculiarities in the business of women caring for other women's children. With a gently questioning tone, Ramirez asks us to contemplate the value of mothering in a society in which most women work and those who work mothering children are given an almost shamefully low status.

Nevertheless, we find us ourselves more engaged with these issues when Ramirez is playing anyone but herself, since she tends to over-explain when in first person mode. Moreover, she concludes the play with a sincere yet overly simplified personal appeal to the audience that slightly diminishes some of the more complex moments that have come before.