Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Exit Cuckoo

GRADE: B/B-

Written and Performed by Lisa Ramirez; Directed by Colman Domingo. At the Clurman Theater. (CLOSED)

Respectful notices greet Lisa Ramirez's autobiographical examination of the life of a Manhattan nanny. Some critics feel that her acting isn't as good as the script, and some feel the opposite, praising her performance but finding her text preachy and somewhat obvious. Either way, the play gets high marks for shedding light on a world seldom thought about or questioned.



Backstage B+
(Karl Levett) In Exit Cuckoo, playwright-performer Lisa Ramirez gives voice to the voiceless. In this informative 80-minute solo show, Ramirez speaks for the nannies of New York. Yes, those women you see pushing strollers on every street and filling every park and playground. The complex picture she presents is as much about the families that hire nannies as the nannies themselves—and the picture is not a pretty one. Based on her own experiences, Ramirez paints a series of portraits of servants and mistresses that would have intrigued Dickens. The play is presented by Working Theater, whose mission is to produce plays for and about working people; if that notion seems quaint to you, the ignored subject examined here will bring you up short.

The New York Times B
(Anita Gates) [A] funny, sad and satisfyingly complex one-woman show... Ms. Ramirez brings fresh insight to the picture, smartly revealing the characters’ interwoven fates and fortunes and distinctive personalities. One of her finest creations is Fiona, a young Irishwoman planning to have an abortion, who says, “I can’t believe you can get pregnant from sex that lousy.”

Theatermania B-
(Patrick Lee) 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... 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.

Variety B-
(Sam Thielman) The material is fascinating, but for all her winning perkiness, its writer is a little stiff... Helmer Colman Domingo's smooth staging keeps the piece moving steadily even when the narrative starts to flag, and the design elements, particularly Matt O'Hare's subtle sound, provide an unobtrusive sense of place. It would be nice to say Ramirez's show matches the designers' creativity and commitment, but that's true only briefly.

New York Post B
(Frank Scheck) In pungently amusing strokes, Ramirez depicts several nannies and their employers, including the Upper East Side mother who leaves such pithy notes as, "Off to get a brain scan, home before 6," and the metrosexual couple who ask her to take their baby to Central Park for the Metropolitan Opera's open-air "Faust."...While the piece suffers from occasional meandering and self-indulgence -- Ramirez spends a little too much time as, well, herself -- it offers insight about a subject people thought they knew all about from "The Nanny Diaries."

Time Out NY B-
(Andy Propst) In Exit Cuckoo, this engaging performer uses her experiences at her day (and nighttime and weekend) job to fuel her passion for the stage, bringing to life a host of nanny colleagues from around the world, the well-to-do women who employ them and even a harried businesswoman who runs a nanny-placement service. It's an often comic, occasionally touching and sometimes frightening picture of child-rearing today... the writing never matches Ramirez's acting... Further, the climax (a moment of self-revelation for Ramirez) seems clich├ęd and forced. Though amiable, the piece needs more dramaturgical nurturing in order to fly.

BS B+ 11; NYT B 10; TM B- 9; TONY B- 9; NY B- 9; V B- 9; TOTAL: 57/9=9.5 B/B-

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