On Jan. 12-16, PlayMakers Repertory Company will present Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland), written and performed by Lisa Ramirez and directed by Colman Domingo, as part of its PRC2 second-stage series of small but powerful plays on timely topics. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s professional-theater-in-residence will stage this show in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the UNC Center for Dramatic Art. Freewheeling post-show discussions with the artists, experts in fields of immigrant and domestic workers’ rights, and the audience will follow each performance.
The Vagina Monologues’ creator Eve Ensler called Exit Cuckoo “both brave and funny,” and added “[Lisa] Ramirez gives us an inside look into the complicated, disturbing, often overlooked world of mothers, nannies and children.” The New York Times described Exit Cuckoo as “funny, sad and satisfyingly complex.”
Playwright and performer Lisa Ramirez says, “[This] is a one-woman show that exposes the myth of motherhood. The title refers to the cuckoo bird, which leaves its eggs in other birds’ nests and the other birds assume responsibility for the unborn bird.”
She adds, “[Exit Cuckoo] is a true story of my life as a nanny in New York City. The play takes us into homes in crisis, playgrounds that are a United Nations of nannies, school pickups, and group therapy where the emotional fault lines run deeper than class.
“All of the characters are connected in one way or another,” claims Ramirez. “There are insights into the lives of … mother[s] and nannies, as well as the children they both leave and care for. The play also probes the global economics that have led to the crazy ‘cuckoo’ nature of childcare in this era. Along the way, my nanny must also come to terms with my own ‘cuckoo’ life, and how I became sidetracked to nurture the children of strangers.”
In addition to playwright and performer Lisa Ramirez and director Colman Domingo, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for Exit Cuckoo includes PRC producing artistic director Joseph Haj and associate director Martin Damien Wilkins. Colman Domingo is an OBIE Award-winning actor, director, and playwright who recently starred in the 2008 Tony Award®-winning Broadway musical Passing Strange, with music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald and book and lyrics by Stew.
Lisa Ramirez notes, “The set is black, with cubes and a table that double as park benches, desks, chairs, and various set pieces. A stroller is used to hold props, and to establish scenes with children in them.”
She adds, “The lighting is a big part of the play. It establishes different playing areas, times of the day, etc…. One costume doubles as many. For example, a sweater becomes a head towel.”
Lisa Ramirez found the wellspring of inspiration to write Exit Cuckoo in her own life. “A few years ago,” she explains, “I moved to New York City from San Francisco to continue my acting career. I had been successfully acting in San Francisco for 15 years, and had always wanted to move to New York.
“While a lot of my actor/writer friends were waiting tables, bartending, or doing temp work in-between jobs or commissions,” Ramirez says, “I became a nanny. I had been a part-time teacher in San Francisco, and this seemed like a logical ‘day job’ while I looked for acting work.”
She adds, “My first day on the playground felt like a visit to the United Nations. I began to meet women from all over the world who had come to the U.S. for economic reasons. During my first week, I was sitting on a bench in a Central Park playground, and a woman sat down next to me. She was from Trinidad. She told me that the parents of a boy who had been in her care for years had just fired her, claiming that now that boy was five years old, that he needed more ‘STIMULATION.’ She was devastated, both financially and emotionally.
“That night,” Ramirez says, “I received a phone call from a friend. I told her about my experience on the park bench and that I wanted to quit my day job as a nanny to waitress or bartend like all my actor/writer friends. I said that I had come here to do theater and that this ‘nanny’ thing was just too draining. ‘You have to write this down,’ she said. ‘If you don’t, these women will never be heard.’ We spoke further, and I realized I had the beginning of my first play.
“For the next couple of years,” says Ramirez, “I watched, listened, and wrote. I worked with many different families. I became friends with nannies. I became friends with mothers. I fell in love with the kids. In the course of writing this play, I began to confront my own ambivalent feelings of motherhood and delve into my relationship with my mom, who was a single mother and an artist who had to do work she didn’t want to do to feed four children.
“The longer I worked as a nanny,” Ramirez explains, “the more I realized just how complicated this issue was. It wasn’t just the nannies that were struggling; it was also the mothers. They all seemed to be wrestling with one form of guilt or another. Most of them had regrets about either leaving their children in other countries, leaving their children with other women, or leaving their own personal dreams behind.
“Women spoke to me candidly about all these issues,” says Ramirez. “And yet there was still a great divide between the mothers and the nannies. It is my hope that Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland) will bridge the gap between mothers and nannies and will urge us all to look at motherhood in a new context, so that we can begin a dialogue about what it means to be a woman in today’s world.”
Lisa Ramirez adds, “I have been volunteering and working with Domestic Workers United [http://www.domesticworkersunited.org/] in New York for the past five years. While Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland) was being written, the Domestic Workers United Organization in New York City had been lobbying for six years to get the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed in New York City. On July 1, 2010, New York lawmakers approved the first law in the nation granting workplace rights to the over 200,000 domestic workers in New York. This was a major victory and made U.S. labor history.” (For details about this landmark legislation, see http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-20009506-10391695.html.)
SECOND OPINION: June 23 Chapel Hill, NC 1380 WCHL interview with Joseph Haj: http://wchl1360.com/detailswide.html?id=14974.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents EXIT CUCKOO (nanny in motherland), written and performed by Lisa Ramirez, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-15 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan 16 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
TICKETS: $25-$35, except all tickets $10 for the 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16th performance.
BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/843-2311, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.aspx.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://exitcuckoo.com/exitcuckoovideo.html.
The Play: http://exitcuckoo.com/ (official website).
The Playwright/Performer: http://exitcuckoo.com/ (official website).
The Director: http://www.colmandomingo.com/ (official website), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=417633 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0231458/ (Internet Movie Database).
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