Geetha Reddy’s new and emotionally heartfelt drama at the Live Oak Theater is the tale of two women of different socioeconomic strata whose lives interweave in a manner loosely inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
Fifteen years before the action of the play, Latina domestic worker, undocumented immigrant Pilar (terrific Michelle Navarrete) was nanny to South Asian Zoe (first-class Kimiya Shokri) and her younger brother, Josh (convincing Yohana Ansari-Thomas) when a catastrophe befell their feminist activist mother (Radhika Rao, seen only in video). It impacted the rest of the family deeply.
Fifteen years later, Pilar has a child herself, the thoroughly American, bright high-school-aged Dani (excellent Neiry Rojo). Zoe, now a young doctor and mother of an infant, returns to live at the site of the family tragedy and seeks out Pilar to be nanny to her infant. The relationship between these two adult women, separated by class and race, but joined together by their shared history, forge first a tentative, but ultimately, strong bond, as together they face their lives and the tribulations caused by the men they knew.
Playwright Reddy honestly and realistically portrays the awkwardness and control issues involved in the nanny/parent relationship, with its typically loose and unprofessional employer/employee problems, exacerbated by the close familial quarters, and in this situation, by Pilar’s illegal status. Pilar keeps track of all the many hours for which she is unpaid on a shawl she continually crochets. There are many characteristic conversations about how to coordinate Zoe’s work schedule with Dani’s school and Pilar’s transportation arrangements.
Men fare poorly in Far, Far Better Things. Their violence and sexual abuse is the cause of most of the women’s troubles and tragedies. When Zoe’s younger brother Josh returns home to live with her, his racism and sexism bring the play to an unexpectedly dramatic, Dickensian climax.
Skillfully directed by Katja Rivera, and with little budget but lots of talent, Shotgun Players and TheatreFirst have produced exciting theater with this two-act contemporary, captivating drama.
Far, Far Better Things can be seen at the Live Oak Theater in Live Oak Park, North Berkeley Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m., and Sunday, 2 p.m., and runs through May 19. Sliding scale tickets from $20–$30 online. No one turned away at the door for lack of funds. For information, extended performance dates and tickets, visit TheatreFirst online.