Stardance Prods. and Beth Colt in association with the Cast Iron Theater Company present a comedy in two acts by Michael Weller. Directed by David Schweizer; set design, Victoria Petrovich; costume design, Stephanie Kerley Schwartz; lighting design, Rand Ryan; sound design, Peter Stenshoel. Opened, reviewed Oct. 21, 1995. Runs through Dec. 23, 1995. Running time: 2 hours. Cast: Alley Mills (Nicole), Tim Ryan (Hollis), Mimi Lieber (Rafaella), John Gegenhuber (Garwood), Barbara Raven (Inga, Woman, Renee), Michelle Beauchamp (Cindee, Lucy, Detective), Terence Matthews (Maybella, Detective, Regan), Richard Miro (Kaylyn, Hector, Ranjit), Diana Maria Belbot (Unitia), Matthew Aaron, Perry Herman (Baby Voices); Rebecca Lumianski, Janette Jensen. Michael Weller’s hilarious comedy about the clash of culture and gender spotlights a marvelous perf by Diana Maria Belbot as part of a standout cast under the crisp direction of David Schweizer. The Yuppie pair — he’s a lawyer, she’s a book editor — greet parenthood with a mixture of joy and trepidation, totally unprepared for what to expect. Their friends Rafaella (Mimi Lieber) and Garwood (John Gegenhuber) are no help — they’re separated and still battling.
Into the quiet chaos strides Unitia (Belbot), an opinionated, take-charge nanny from somewhere in Latin America. When asked where she comes from, she rattles off a string of countries: “Honduras, Peru, Ecuador …” Miraculously, Unitia is able to quiet the screaming babies, cook a delicious meal and serve wine to the harried parents without raising a sweat. The answer to every parent’s dream? Not quite.
As Unitia transforms the placid, buttoned-down co-op into a kind of Yuppie banana republic, she shakes up everybody’s ideas about feminism, motherhood, machismo, religion and political correctness. A classic character who could be straight out of Moliere, Unitia shows the primitive power of sex, nature and taboo over such fragile constructs as contemporary American values.
In her forceful, pragmatic and homespun way, Unitia manages to trash everything Nicole and Hollis profess to believe, ultimately transforming them into something like elemental forces of nature. Equality between the sexes? Forget it, Unitia says, as she thrusts a mail-order catalog in front of Hollis’ face, presenting him with the choice between two expensive sound systems for her room. “You’re the man, you decide,” she declares.
Playwright Weller has cut right into the jugular of American upper middle-class society, exposing the weakness of values that can be easily collapsed by the forcefulness of the primitive. It’s an old story, but Weller taps into the tradition with fresh, contemporary acuity.
Belbot, in her Los Angeles theater debut, performs magnificently, from each small gesture to every last bold, sweeping statement. She brings to life a character who is a tough, smart, engaging survivor. Mills and Ryan are excellent as the parents, and they blossom beautifully when Unitia arrives on the scene. Lieber, Gegenhuber and the rest of the cast also are solid.
Director Schweizer skillfully holds to the understated realism of the piece, only cranking up the magic as the play unfolds. Credit also goes to set designer Victoria Petrovich and costume designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz for inspired, fanciful costumes and decor.