The script of Lisa Loomer's Living Out, which runs through February 26 at the Main Street Playhouse in Miami Lakes, is rife with complexity, emotional overtones, and razor-sharp humor. Making all of those elements work onstage would be a challenge for any production company, let alone an amiable black-box theater nestled in a suburban building across the street from a multiplex and a Johnny Rockets restaurant. But an astutely chosen cast of local actors and masterful directing make the new show at Main Street a rewarding — and refreshing — theatergoing experience.
The Main Street Players troupe has had many incarnations since opening in 1974 as the Miami Lakes Players Guild. It has often moved from venue to venue, putting on two or three productions a year wherever possible, from the Little Theatre of Hialeah-Miami Lakes Middle School to the old Goodlet Theatre in Hialeah to the Miami Shores Presbyterian hall and finally to the City of Miami Lakes space where it resides now. It's a diverse and versatile group, as president Clara Lyzniak explains: "The board of directors come from different backgrounds, but we all share a passion for theater. Some of us wear many hats — serving as directors, assistant directors, stage managers, and producers. My husband, Dennis, is the playhouse manager and builds all our sets with the help of our treasurer, Harold Korenstein, and others who pitch in."
Lyzniak, who has been involved with Main Street Players since 1998, has served in almost every capacity with the group, occasionally even acting, which, in light of her uproarious, scene-stealing performance in Living Out, she should do more often.
Living Out: By Lisa Loomer. Directed by Daniel Nieves. Through February 26 at Main Street Playhouse, 6766 Main St., Miami Lakes; 305-558-3737; mainstreetplayers.com. Tickets cost $20 for general admission and $18 for students and seniors.
Producing a play as multilayered and exigent as Living Out requires an ensemble with the ability to not only perform comedy but also to be compelling during the more intense moments. Loomer's play is a sink-or-swim kind of production, and Main Street Players stays consistently on the surface.
"It was challenging at first when our artistic director, Robert Coppel, suggested it a year ago," Lyzniak says. "After several of us on the board read the script, we thought it was a great story that needed to be told, and we consulted with our set designer, Mike Stopnick, on how we could present two households in our small theater. After reading and understanding the play, Mike said it could be done."
Set in Los Angeles, Living Out tells the story of Ana Hernandez (Marina Catalan), a Salvadoran nanny who lands a job working for Nancy Robin (Lali Navarro), a high-powered entertainment attorney living in a well-to-do neighborhood with her husband Richard (Michael Fernandez) and their first baby. Ana is also married and has two sons. Her youngest lives with her and her husband Bobby (Cairo Cangas), while her eldest is still in El Salvador with Ana's grandmother. As a working-class couple, Ana and Bobby are trying to save up to bring their oldest son to the States while also paying an immigration lawyer to help Bobby obtain his citizenship.
Ana's plight is complicated. Nanny jobs pay well, but after two interviews where she learns that women with children are not being hired (because nannies with kids are too complicated to handle), she is forced to lie during her interview with Nancy and claim both her children are out of the country. After being hired by Nancy and Richard, Ana befriends two fellow nannies who work for other families in the same neighborhood. The three often meet at the park with kids in tow and talk about the struggles and peculiar mannerisms and lifestyles of their Anglo bosses. Nancy meets with the other moms for play dates, where the first-time mother is warned about "those people" when they talk about their respective nannies.
Originally produced by the Second Stage Theatre and performed at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 2003, Living Out is Loomer's 14th play. Her other works include the award-winning play The Waiting Room, as well as the John Ritter-helmed '90s sitcom Hearts Afire. Loomer's plays often deal with contemporary family life within the Hispanic-American community, with a heady mix of humor and controversy. Born in New York to Spanish-Romanian parents, Loomer garnered the Imagen Award in 1995 and 1999 for positive portrayals of Latinos in The Waiting Room and Expecting Isabel. Loomer also co-wrote the screenplay for Girl, Interrupted, which earned Angelina Jolie a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1999.
At first glance, Living Out's premise seems overly explicit. Prejudices, misconceptions, and culture shock saturate the plot. But Loomer's script is thoroughly steeped in the right amount of honesty and acerbic humor, so it cuts through the supposed clichés and delivers an engaging story.
A story this awash in complexities would normally be limited by the quirks of a small local theater troupe working on a tiny stage. Between the various and quick-hit scene changes and its sizable ensemble, Living Out has a lot of moving parts. But director Daniel Nieves's cohesive and simple direction keeps things running tightly.
Stopnick's split-scene set design perfectly frames the actors on the minuscule stage. The story offers a special challenge, with action hopping from the Robins' home to the Hernandezes' small apartment to the park, with nary a break. But lighting designer Marcelo Ferreira's understated fades, along with Nieves's fluid direction, make the most of the sparse set, allowing the actors to do their thing while the nearly two-hour story streams uninterrupted.
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Nieves gets strong performances from his cast, particularly Catalan and Navarro, who command the stage with great aplomb and chemistry. Lyzniak, as one of Ana's nanny friends Zoila, is downright hilarious and an absolute showstopper, bringing down the house every time she's onstage. It's her first major role with Main Street Players, taking her away from behind-the-scenes duties, and something we hope to see more. Nieves's cast shows impeccable timing with the quick-witted humor while never delving into ham-handed hyperbolic performance when things get intense, as some small theater troupes often do.
The small theater could use better acoustics (perhaps a bit of padding added to the walls), and there were a few times when the actors spoke their lines through the audience's laughter, making it impossible to hear the dialogue following a particular punch line. But those were minor deficiencies in an otherwise solid production.
Loomer's assertively funny and moving script and an incisive performance from Main Street Players' well-rounded and talented cast make this production of Living Out an improbable and resonant achievement for the diminutive theater group.