Playwright to portray lives of Sullivan County poultry workers

Lisa Ramirez, in "Exit Cuckoo: Nanny in Motherland." Photo by via the Exit Cuckoo website.

New York City actor and playwright Lisa Ramirez, who wrote and starred in a well-reviewed one-woman show about nannies in 2009, is making the Latina female immigrant workers of Sullivan County's poultry industry the stars of her next play.

Called "To The Bone," Ramirez's new show is based on interviews with women workers at various Sullivan County poultry plants, which produce much of the east coast's foie gras.

Ramirez is a monologist in the 'Vagina Monologues" tradition: her last show, "Exit Cuckoo," featured her portrayals of a slew of female nannies and nanny-employers, including, according to the New York Times, a "young Irishwoman planning to have an abortion, who says, 'I can’t believe you can get pregnant from sex that lousy.'"

Ramirez got to know the subject matter of "Exit Cuckoo" by working as a nanny while trying to make it as an actor in New York. To learn about what it's like to work in a poultry plant, she was sent upstate by The Working Theater, which commissioned the show and will feature it in its 2011-2012 season. According to the Working Theater's website:

Lisa will travel to Sullivan and Columbia counties to interview the predominantly female workers at these plants to research a play that will focus as much on these women's personal lives as their working conditions.

These same Sullivan County workers were the subject of a fantastic 2007 article in the Daily Yonder by Julie Ardery. Ardery took an in-depth look at the living conditions and life stories of the poultry workers. Here's an excerpt from her story that gives you a glimpse of what Ramirez's show might be like:

In Sullivan County, Sofia Romero was hired at an egg processing plant in Woodridge, making minimum wage, then $5.15 an hour; after two years, she was earning $5.75, working 6 am to 5 pm. Her job peeling eggs under a constant stream of cold water and washing machinery with a high-pressure hose and caustic detergents caused psoriasis on her hands, a condition that worsened after Romero became pregnant. She quit, and says she will soon start work at a chicken processing plant ...

Among most long-time residents in Sullivan County, this new wave of immigrants remains fairly invisible. "They work in restaurants and garages, and generally keep to themselves in this area. You know, they have their niche," said a staff person at the Chamber of Commerce. Both the foie gras farm and Formaggio cheese house many of their employees, an arrangement that eases getting to work but further isolates an immigrant community already set apart by language. Undocumented workers, who may first welcome such invisibility, have found themselves, like Carlos Mendoza, at the mercy of employers.

1/5/10 Update: In reponse to a comment from Lisa Ramirez herself (see below), this post has been edited to change the name of the play to its current title. Its working title was "The Poultry Play."