Waiting for Lefty
Immersive, heartfelt production breathes life into Odets classic
|Oracle Theatre presents|
|Waiting for Lefty|
Review by Anuja Vaidya
Waiting for Lefty is a fiery production that examines the unfair labor practices prevalent in the 1930s, and how they affected every aspect of a person’s life. It is a stirring look at the “Man” and how he holds down others to stay on top. While Oracle Theatre’s production of the Clifford Odets classic has plenty of heart and energy, some of the decisions made in terms of execution don’t quite make sense and lead to more confusion than needed.
The play is comprised of a number of vignettes. Each gives us a slice of a different situation, but is centered on the same idea of class disparity and the privileges that certain classes are denied. The most striking and stirring of all the stories is the first one, in which a tense meeting between cab drivers and an executive of the company takes place. They are waiting for Lefty, the elected chairman of the cab drivers’ union to show up. Since Lefty has not yet arrived, another member of the elected committee of the union, Joe, speaks. Interspersed through the scene, is another one in which Joe and his wife Edna fight about the abysmal pay and work conditions that is keeping their family well below the poverty line. The executive, the proverbial “Man”, seems to take great delight in taunting the cab drivers about the comforts that they do not have. It is a painful vignette to watch, and sets the tone for the rest of the play. Each story evokes a sense of despair as the characters are dealt one unfair card after another.
Oracle’s Waiting for Lefty is one of the most immersive productions I’ve seen this year. It draws us into the somber world that the characters inhabit from lights up, during which the actors enter singing a haunting melody and then proceed to draw the backdrop of a city skyline on one of the walls. The set and the actors surround the audience, and only the main players take centerstage, that is, the center of the room.
The lighting (designed by Patrick French) and use of space is beautifully done and adds to the immersive nature of the production. Yellow light bulbs are the placed strategically on the ceiling and the walls and used to great effect. Bright white lights are also used for certain scenes that completely change the mood of the scene.
The performances are heartfelt and compelling, with Jeremy Clark stealing the show as the sleazy, greasy, privileged upper class “Man”. His slightly exaggerated laugh, completely devoid of any real mirth, made my skin crawl.
The complicated nature of this production is its only drawback. The same three actors play the main characters in all the vignettes, despite a cast of 9 actors. This makes one wonder if the vignettes are about the same three characters at different points in their lives. But this is not the case and it takes away from the otherwise well-executed production.
Waiting for Lefty is a short but striking look at labor practices and at the socio-economic climate of the 1930s. While it does get confusing, the overall thrust of the play is clear. And where it’s the most is effectively is when director Matt Foss is able to immerse us in a world that appears to be far removed from our own – until we realize that, actually, this play is just as achingly poignant today as it was in the 1930s.
Waiting for Lefty continues through July 27th at Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway (map), with performances Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 8pm, Sundays 7pm. Tickets are FREE. Reservations are greatly encouraged, and can be made through Tixato.com. More information at PublicAccessTheatre.org. (Running time: 55 minutes, no intermission)
behind the scenes
Matt Foss (director), Laura K. Smith (asst. director), Eleanor Kahn (set design, props design), Patrick French (light design), Cait Chiou (costume design), Justin Snyder (rain design), Kathleen Dickinson (production manager), Amy Hopkins (stage manager), Justin Snyder (tech director, rain design), Lyndsay Rose Kane (casting director), Evelyn DeHais (graphic design), Jennifer Drinkwater (cardboard artist), Ben Fuchsen (executive producer), Brad Jayhan-Little (executive director), Max Truax (artistic director)