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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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PerformanceStage ReviewClass warfare with a mop and bucket in 'Doméstica...

Class warfare with a mop and bucket in ‘Doméstica Realidad’

An 'Upstairs-Downstairs' update—including apps and iPhones—in one of the most enjoyable shows of the year at Brava

Conventional wisdom holds that seeing more than one writer’s name on a script should make you cautious, and more than two writers should send you running in the opposite direction. By that logic, seeing five playwrights credited with Doméstica Realidad—Domestic Reality (US premiere through August 13 at Brava Theater, SF) should be a huge red flag. Fortunately, it’s actually one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve seen all year.

The playwriting quintet of Natalia Burgueño, Etelvina Rodríguez, Camila Sanson, Florencia Dansilio, and Sofía Espinosa create a unified voice that never sounds like any one writer is trying to drown out the other four. The script’s focus is narrow, even as it highlights the nuances of its characters. Those characters being a series of Latina domestic workers and the one-percenters who hire them without learning their names.

Even before the play starts, we enter into the Cynthia Olmedo-designed set showing one of those horrible new lofts they sell to 20-somethings these days; the ones that look like the inside of stone coffins with large windows and stairs leading to the upper-bedroom. (Indeed, one character will later say it feels like a cage.) The streamers, empty glasses, & bottles tells us that some heavy partying has gone on, but that whoever made the mess has no intention of cleaning it up themselves.

Carla Gallardo, Deborah Cortez, Dyana Díaz in ‘Doméstica Realidad.’ Photo by Constanza Hevia

The play proper begins when three affluent party gals rush for more drinking, one of them actually vomiting behind the sofa. When the next morning’s hangovers bring them back down to Earth, we learn that our trio consists of rising bureaucrat Valeria (Carla Gallardo), biologist and working mom Mariana (Deborah Cortez), and motivational speaker Carla (Dyana Díaz). This is Carla’s loft. When YouTube videos fail to help her with the stopped-up sink, it isn’t long before she plans to hire cleaners to do the job.

This leads to a lively and hilarious debate among the trio, who are all Lean In feminists, but feel debt to lower castes from which domestic workers are typically hired. The conversation is wonderfully layered, with the three admitting their own mothers were domestic workers and Mariana all but admitting she wouldn’t parent as well without the help of nannies. Yet, they have no interest in helping to elevate the less-affluent out of poverty, despite Valeria’s lip service to doing just that. When they intentionally shatter a glass and laugh knowing they don’t have to pick up the pieces, I thought of how this conversation could move from Latin America to Nob Hill without having to change much besides ethnicity.

Our second scene keeps us in Carla’s loft (she’s the only character who remains consistent throughout) on a new day as two domestic workers arrive. They’re the outspoken Andrea (Gallardo) and the more reserved Mónica (Cortez). Just as the previous trio rambled on about oh-so-burdensome chore of hiring help, our new duo air legit (and hilarious) grievances about the literal dirty work they have to do for their affluent employers. It’s a sad and hilarious exchange about cleaning up after pets and trying to evade the wandering hands of the men in the houses. Andrea gets particularly heated just as a hungover Carla enters, not even hearing the exchange because she’s so fixated on her phone.

Carla tries to ingratiate herself on the two, claiming to be a lower-class ally, but she immediately drops such pretense when her phone suddenly goes missing. The script leans into this hypocrisy even more for the final scene, in which Carla practices a speech with her life coach (Cortez) as an unnamed worker (Gallardo) stands sentry-like, forced to listen to her drivel. When the worker asks to go home, Carla—whose English-laden speech extols the supposed benefits of meritocracy—wastes no time in extorting the worker with the promise of an app-rating so low it’s guaranteed to get her fired.

As directed by La Lengua AD Virginia Blanco, one can actually afford to not speak Spanish or read all of the supertitles while still getting a grasp on the story. Indeed, the performances shouldn’t be missed, and they tell us a lot about the characters even when we don’t catch all the words. (My favorite moment may be near the beginning, when Mariana shuts off Carla’s music and Díaz-as-Carla gives the most hilarious WTF look in response.)

Carla Gallardo, Deborah Cortez in ‘Doméstica Realidad.’ Photo by Constanza Hevia

Blanco keeps the action moving at a steady clip while keeping a firm grasp on the script’s biting humor and dark commentary. Indeed, the programs came with flyers for the California Domestic Workers Coalition and the Hand in Hand Network. The production is as much a rally cry as it is a satire, and it does well as both.

Since their last great show at Brava!, both La Lengua and Brava! Theatre have dropped their COVID safety measures. I wasn’t the only one masked for this matinee performance, but I’d be surprised if there were more than three of us in the near-full Brava Studio. In fact, when Andrea and Mónica don cup-shaped N95s to clean the loft, I couldn’t help but think of how the still-ongoing pandemic has exacerbated class divisions and reshaped the work force.

When companies like Apple and Zoom—Zoom, of all companies!—demand their employees return to the office to be micro-managed, it’s as much of an extortion as Carla performs in the final scene: an affluent declaration that the boss’s personal comfort matters more than workers’ rights. In spite of the lack of safety measures, my Aranet4’s CO² readings peaked around 1381ppm during the 90-plus-minute show.

Though the show missed the opportunity for some pointed COVID commentary, Doméstica Realidad is an hilarious Latina take on “upstairs-downstairs” class warfare. It neither overstays its welcome nor loses sight of its topic of commentary, making for one of 2023’s better shows. And with so many non-corporate theatre companies having closed their doors lately, there’s a comfort in recommending a show by a Latinx/Latine company with a message everyone should hear.

DOMÉSTICA REALIDAD’s US premiere runs through August 13 in the Studio of the Brava Theater, SF. Tickets and further info here.

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Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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