Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Working"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark


Based on "Working" by Studs Terkel
Book by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso
Music by Stephen Schwartz, Micki Grant, Craig Carnelia, Mary Rodgers & James Taylor
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Micki Grant, Craig Carnelia, James Taylor & Susan Birkenhead
Directed by James Tallach
Musical Direction by Adam McDonald

Executive Producer Christopher Teague
Artistic Director Robert Case
Set & Lighting Design by John MacKenzie
Costume Design by Meg Cowe
Technical Crew Brianna Conrad, Brian Peddie
Stage Manager Maria Duaime

Mike Dillon, Ironworker...........David DaCosta
Al Calinda, Parking Attendant.......Robin Welch
Amanda McKinney, Project Manager...Ashley Agbay
Sharon Atkins. Receptionist........Karen Dervin
Enid DuBois, Phone Solicitor....Jaime Steinbach
Heather Lamb, Phone Operator....Collette Gagnon
Alexis Winship, Executive..........Rebecca Shor
John Rushton, Newsboy...............Jeff Sewell
Rose Hoffman, School Teacher......Ann Carpenter
Babe Secoli, Supermarket Checker...Angela Foley
Julia Nunez, Migrant Worker........Caitie Grady
Conrad Swible, UPS Worker.........Michael Foley
Kate Rushton, Housewife...Rachel Fisher-Parkman
Grace Clements, Millworker........Dinah Steward
Roberta Victor, Hooker.............Kendra Alati
Candy Cottingham, Fundraiser.......Rebecca Shor
Anthony Coelho, Stone Mason...........Gary Ryan
Frank Decker, Trucker.............Michael Foley
Delores Dante, Waitress......Meredith Stypinski
Joe Zutty, Retired..................Cliff Blake
Tom Patrick, Fireman................Lucas Lloyd
Maggie Holmes, Cleaning Woman......Nella Mupier
Ralph Werner, Salesman.............Adam Randall
Charlie Blossom, Ex-Copy Boy.......Joshua Smith

Conductor...........Adam McDonald
Bass.................Dirk Hillyer
Drums.............Mark McGettrick
Percussion............Josh Zieman
Keyboard............Adam McDonald

There are regulars, of course, but the Metro Stage Company is essentially Christopher Teague and Robert Case. When they're not producing/directing their own shows at the YMCA Family Theatre in Central Square Cambridge (They've been doing them there for five seasons already) you can usually find them over at Turtle Lane Playhouse --- running sound, stage-managing, performing. They know that Metro Stage can't buy elaborate sets and costumes, but instead they've concentrated on voices and acting, and finding Music Directors who can can make an orchestra accompany instead of forcing singers to compete. They're not afraid of Sondheim --- "Assassins" "Company" and next season they're taking on "Sweeney Todd"! --- and a lot of their regulars show their Boston Conservatory backgrounds. Chris and Bob love working in theater, and their casts enjoy working with them, and feel appreciated. They risk the money from their day-jobs every show, and sometimes the low-budget approach finds unexpected fires in familiar shows, or neglected gems. Their warmly moving production of "Working" is an excellent example of Metro Stage at their best, and it will run for only one more week-end. Catch it if you can.

The soul of "Working" is Studs Terkel, who did his work with a tape recorder, coaxing everyday nobodies to display their dignity and expertise. He was a proud ex-Communist who took the word "proletariat" seriously; Studs never left the Party, the Party left him while he was too busy listening to the people to notice. Stephen Schwartz got a bunch of songsmiths to set the rhythms and insights and pride of people talking of their jobs to music, and he and Nina Faso boiled two dozen lives down to two hours of pure poetry. "I hear America Working," it says, where, one by one, with stance and attitude and minimal mime two dozen different individuals explain their days on the job.

This is the sort of show where, say, David DaCosta as an ironworker can come center and sit, dangling a foot over the edge of the stage, the way he would on a naked I-beam a hundred feet above the city; where Dinah Steward as a millworker can demonstrate the endless repetitions that make her mindlessly part of her machine; where Gary Ryan's stone-mason can say "nothing lasts forever, but what I make with mortar and stone has a good shot at it"; where Rachel Fisher-Parkman can say, apologetically, "I don't ... get a paycheck, I don't ... have a job: all I am is ... just a housewife" --- as though no one should take that seriously.

John MacKenzie's set here is a scatter of building-blocks with letters made of tools spelling the show's title. Behind them, projected on a screen are sharp and sharply chosen photos of people at work, matching jobs to those the cast is miming. There's no dance as such, but Director James Tallach opens and narrows focus, now on a trio of phone-workers, each with a microphone-headset over one ear, now on a woman scrubbing floors, now on a hooker recalling her life, a valet-parker who loves cars or a trucker miles and days away from his family. A frustrated teacher (Ann Carpenter) speaks of a memorable pupil and she appears --- Angela Foley as a supermarket-checker proud of her speed, accuracy, and ability to endure insults without strinking back.

Studs Terkel's work was listening, and he was so good at it people volunteered to him things about themselves no one could suspect were there. He taped them, and put them on the radio, and packaged them in big, sprawling multifaceted books, and one of those books turned into a musical. And the Metro Stage Company brought it to life.

"Working" (5 - 13 June)
Cambridge Family YMCA Theatre, 820 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRDGE MA

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