Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland)

When: Jan. 12-15, 7:30 p.m. and Sun., Jan. 16, 2 p.m. 2011

Memo to everyone who savored the 2003 novel The Nanny Diaries (while avoiding, with any luck, the 2007 travesty of a film adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson): Are you ready for the real story? Autobiographical actor/playwright Lisa Ramirez lived the research leading up to her 2009 work Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland) by working as a nanny while trying to establish a foothold as an actor in New York. "Being a nanny in New York is kind of like working at the United Nations," she observes at the opening of her one-person show. "You sit on a park bench long enough, and women start to talk."

The depth of the work that follows outstrips the comparatively circumscribed world of privilege depicted in the 2003 best-seller. Drawing on her own experiences—and interviews with domestic workers, family members, agents and others—Ramirez probes the intersecting cultural dilemmas whose nexus involves "two women who know nothing about each other, except that one has money, the other one needs it, and there's a child in between them that needs to be taken care of." The narcissistic neurosis of a privileged Upper West Side wife is contrasted with the radically different fears of a midtown working mother struggling to have it all: "Yes, it was my decision to have Katie on my own and yes, I did know that it wasn't going to be easy. But ... sometimes? I just want to scream, 'Give me back my baby.'" An embittered domestic worker regrets giving so much love to a family's children and then being suddenly dismissed. In their midst, an outspoken Jewish grandmother observes, "The only animal that does this—the only one—is the cuckoo bird. It drops its eggs in other birds' nests, says 'So long, suckers,' and the other birds raise the little baby cuckoo as if it were one of their own."

Ramirez's scripting is tight and nuanced; her abilities as a mimic in bringing a series of striking characters recall the work of Sarah Jones and Anna Deavere Smith. (Enter "Exit Cuckoo" on YouTube for a preview.) The five-day run includes performances Wednesday thru Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. .—Byron Woods

Price: $25-35


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