“The world is supposed to be for all of us…Hello, America!” Waiting for Lefty
Delighted to see that the frequently conservative Dallas Morning News has not blacklisted Upstart Productions for producing Clifford Odet’s Waiting For Lefty and that the production will continue its run through April 1, playing to full houses. That’s exactly what happened to Seattle Repertory Theatre in 1936 where it ran “Lefty” for just one night, and The Seattle Times blacklisted it as “communist propaganda”, cutting too close to the stark realities of Seattle maritime labor disputes of the time. Here’s relevant irony. Today the draconian, rogue Republican-driven push to eliminate the NEA, NEH and PBS stirs outrage among normal Americans who cherish the arts’ contribution to our society. Odets wrote his classic play about a fictitious cab driver strike with funds from the 1935 Federal Theatre Project, which came into existence to give artists in large cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle work during the Great Depression. Art mattered then. It does now. Odets wrote for New York’s The Group Theatre, with full support from the FTP. Waiting For Lefty may be the most vibrant example of the 1930’s “social content” movement theatre that swept the country, thanks to the Federal Theatre Project. The People were not silenced in the 1930’s; this play inspired them, across the country. Given its elegant clarity as a work of art and the eloquent power of Upstart’s timely realization, its significant relevance for today should not escape an audiences’ perception. Strike? Resist? Hell, yes.
In the 1930’s not many audiences got to experience immersion-style theatre in an intimate, arena-style setting. Waiting For Lefty gave them a “new” type of experience, one that resonated in small spaces and Union Halls everywhere as no proscenium production could have. Founded by Josh Glover in 2008, Upstart Productions established itself as a gritty immersion-focused company. Upstart’s director for “Lefty”, David Meglino, enlivens this work with deft confidence as if it was written specifically for this company and the intimate, warehouse-raw setting of Ash Studios. A sequence of poignant vignettes portrays the common man’s (and woman’s) reaction to capitalism’s inflexibility in dealing with the devastating consequences of the Depression. Characters spring to life full-blown, focused and natural, as they rise from seats scattered through the audience to enact their scenes, often as duos. Every vignette shares revelatory moments of despair, struggle and strength, with performances that both plumb human depth and soar with archetypal grandeur. Audiences lean into the scenes to catch every word and nuance, just as the actors sitting beside them do as “participants”. It’s heartbreaking to watch cabbie Joe and his wife Edna (Robert Gemaehlich and Steph Garrett) struggling over the fact that their children are starving as she shames him into doing something about it. Factory owner Fayette (played masterfully with understated reptilian malevolence by Chris Messersmith) attempts to bribe his eager-to-please scientist employee Miller (a sorely tempted but principled Jack Bristol) into despicable, unethical acts with chilling result. Most memorable and gut-wrenching, the scene between senior physician Dr. Barnes and the young, talented Doctor Benjamin she must denigrate to please bureaucracy cuts to the quick in its vivid portrayal of prejudice, expediency and unprincipled nepotism. Moira Wilson as the senior doctor and Isaac Young as her younger counterpart exhibit defined, realistic familiarity and mutual respect as colleagues that gets ripped apart by “job necessity.” Let’s talk health care, shall we? In 1935 or today….
The play concludes on a rousing note, inspired by uninhibited rabblerouser Agate (Van Quattro, afire with devil-may-care swagger) as he drives the ensemble to its feet to storm out the front doors yelling, “Strike!” Join them if you feel the urge, as many audiences have over the years since 1935. Of special note: in a cast of 16, there are only 4 women’s roles in Waiting For Lefty, so sadly typical by the numbers. But, all women are as unique, believable and fully developed as any of the men, balancing out this play in ways modern playwrights might aspire to emulate.
Care about classic theatre? See Waiting For Lefty.
Care about art in support of the betterment of humanity? See Waiting For Lefty.
Care about young artists performing a unique work with style, precision and craft? See Waiting For Lefty.
Welcome back, Upstart. Can’t wait to see what follows….
Waiting For Lefty runs through April 1, 2017, with every performance Pay-What-You-Can. Voter registration cards are available on site so your voice might be heard.
Want to learn more about Democratic Socialism? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_socialism
Waiting for Lefty
By Clifford Odets directed by David Meglino
Through April 1, 2017
Pay-What-You-Want at the door (or make a minimum $15 donation in advance at http://upstarttheater.com/donate/
3203 Ash Lane
Dallas, Texas 75226
About Upstart Productions: www.upstarttheater.com
Artistic Director, Joe Folsom
All political slant in this review reflects specifically the beliefs of the reviewer and does not assume Upstart Productions or its artists or producers share those viewpoints.