Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Waiting for Lefty"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Waiting for Lefty"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The second show at the Providence College Blackfriars Theatre is Clifford Odets' 1935 drama "Waiting For Lefty". The show takes place during the Great Depression where members of the New York City Taxi Drivers Union debate whether or not they should go on strike, while waiting for their leader, Lefty Costello, to arrive at the union hall. Consisting of a series of related vignettes, the entire play is framed by the meeting of cab drivers who are planning a labor strike. The framing situation effectively utilizes the audience as part of the meeting. A sharply political play, it deals with the cynical exploitation of the working classes. It was first presented by the Group Theatre, becoming both a symbol of its times and a beacon for many soon-to-be famous playwrights who came under its influence. The show is excellently directed by John Garrity with his multitalented 19 member cast. The one act show is given added power by including a concert prologue utilizing songs from the Depression era including "Nobody Knows You", "Solidarity Forever", "Joe Hill", "Hard Times", "Big Rock Candy Mountain", "Dump the Bosses", "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?", "Somewhere Along the Road" with a bluesy voiced Suzanne Keyes moving the audience to tears with its rendition with Katy Marks and Kelly Smith singing back-up harmony and the powerful "Talking Union" sung by Devin Driscoll and Katie Guzik which leads into the dramatic part of the show. It moves from scene to scene seamlessly with the talent of the performers pouring forth. David Rabinow, a talented local musician who has appeared at the Gamm Theatre is the musical director who not only taught all the songs to the cast but plays guitar, leading six other talented musicians, too.

John is aided in his task by scenic designer for the show is Katryne Hecht who constructed a huge square platform in the center of the playing area with two tiers of bleachers surrounding it as well as two stairways. The authentic 1930's costumes complete with stockings with seams in them are by David Costa-Cabral and the lighting designer is Tim Cryan. The acting of the mostly college student cast is excellent. I will describe the various scenes and the performers playing them. The bullying thug, Harry Fatt who runs the meeting is wonderfully played by college junior, Justin Pimental. He is their union leader who tells the workers that a strike isn't a good idea. His two sidekicks who threaten the crowd are also well played by Teddy Kalin and Patrick Knight. Fatt calls the person who demanded a strike as a "red". The vignettes are flashback sequences which tell why the characters have reached their decisions and are labeled by Odets as episodes. The first one is called Joe and Edna. Joe maintains he is not a "red boy,'' citing that he is a war veteran and tells how his wife has influenced his decision to strike when she tell him that the furniture, unpaid for, was repossessed. They argue; Joe claims that strikes do not work and causing people to lose money while doing so. Ted Boyce-Smith and Suzanne Keyes bring these two characters to life with their strong acting talents. Especially poignant is when she explains that their little daughter didn't even know what grapefruits are, having never had one since they are living below the poverty level. The second episode is called Lab Assistant. Fayette, an industrialist talks in his office to Miller, a lab assistant. Fayette tells her, she is receiving a raise due to her loyalty, and that she'll be switched to a new laboratory tomorrow, where she will work under an important chemist, Dr. Brenner where they'll be creating a poison gas for chemical warfare. Miller is outraged, having lost several relatives in World War 1 including her brother. She exclaims she would "Rather dig ditches first!", quits her job, slapping him in the mouth at the close of the scene. Craig Schutz and Sarah Bedard, a lovely blonde both seniors play these characters very well. He as an overbearing business man only interested in making money and she as a compassionate woman believing in her convictions and love of family and fellow human beings. The third episode is "The Young Hack and his girl". Florence tells her brother Irv that she needs "something out of life," and that Sid, who is going to take her to a dance provides that. Irv warns her that both he and their mother disapprove of Sid since he makes little money as a taxi driver. Florence buckles under and says she will talk to Sid that night. Sid come in upset that his brother, a college boy has swallowed the "money men's" propaganda and joined the navy to fight foreigners who are, ultimately, like himself. They dance together but stop when the music ends with him trying to get her to laugh but she buries her face in her hands, and he buries his face in her lap. A very touching scene well played by sophomore students Teddy Kalin as Irv (who is tough with his sister) Elizabeth McNamara as Florence (another pretty blonde) and freshman student Collin Kennedy play the young couple in love but torn apart by their dire circumstances in life.

The fourth episode is Labor Spy with action returning to Harry Fatt who denounces the strike and saying they haven't investigated the strike issue as he has;bringing up Annie Clayton, who was in an unsuccessful strike in Philadelphia. Annie states that Fatt is right while a voice cries out that Clayton is a "rat", a "company spy", claiming Clayton has been breaking up unions for years. When Fatt sends his men to take care of this mouthy woman, she says she knows it is true because Clayton is her sister, Annie Clancy. Another strong scene with fine acting by Michaela McDonald, a sophomore as the spy and Julia Tully as the sister who lets the crowd know who she really is. The fifth episode called The Actor is an entertaining scene with Catherine McDonnell with a fantastic Brooklyn accent as the hard hearted stage manager who wants to give the poor actor a buck to help him out with his pregnant wife. She knows the producer is more worried about his dog's operation than with real life actors out of work. Catherine brings humor to the scene by telling the actor to read a copy of the Communist manifesto she has and that he will be better served by that then by the predatory producer. The naive young actor is beautifully played by sophomore, Alex Fielder who also has a wonderful tenor voice while Patrick Knight who also plays one of the henchman, switches gears to portray the haughty, rich producer. The sixth episode is called The Intern and starts with elderly Dr. Barnes angrily talking into a phone, upset that he has to deliver bad news to Dr. Benjamin on an issue she opposed. Benjamin has been replaced on a surgery on a poor woman in critical condition in the charity ward by an incompetent doctor named Leeds, the nephew of a senator. The woman dies, Barnes tells her that the charity ward will close and that she will lose her position. Benjamin claims it is because she is Jewish and she decides to stay in America and try to change things, vowing to fight even though it might mean death. This intense scene is handled by Devin Driscoll who graduated last May and for five months worked on finding housing for the Obama family in Washington D.C., freeing him to return to PC and play this role. The crackling argument between Devin and Sarah Ratcliffe, a junior, as Benjamin stands out. The agitated worker with the glass eye called Agate Keller is played with high energy by Brett Epstein who insults the taxi drivers by insulting their lack of strength, then insults Fatt and his henchmen. He proclaims that if "we're reds because we wanna strike, then we take on their salute, too!" Agate tells them to "unite and fight" and tells them not to wait for Lefty who may never arrive. A man runs in to tell them Lefty has been shot dead and Agate urges them to make a new world and strike. This thought provoking show ends with a rousing chorus of "This Land Is Your Land". The country needed change in the 1930's and "Waiting For Lefty" also resonates for today's current day audience who ushered in a new leader to hopefully bring peace and prosperity back to the United States. So for a fantastic show be sure to catch "Waiting For Lefty" at Providence College before time runs out.

"Waiting for Lefty" (6 - 15 February)
PROVIDENCE COLLEGE
@ Angells Blackfriar Theatre, 549 River Avenue, PROVIDENCE RI
1 (401) 865-2218

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