From its electrifying opening minutes to its somber conclusion, a mere 85 minutes later, Clifford Odet”™s passionate and politically-charged play Waiting for Lefty is a timeless piece of classic American theatre that you won”™t readily forget.
Now being staged at Theatre West, near Universal Studios, Charlie Mount directs a strong cast of sixteen actors. Jeff Rack”™s set, some authentic-looking costumes and the mannerisms and demeanor of the large cast takes us back to the mid-1930s, a time fraught with extreme poverty and unrest.Â This country was still struggling with the aftershocks of the stock market crash of 1929 and as unemployment rates reached their highest peak, employers were drastically reducing wages. The threat of another world war as also looming and meanwhile the workers were slowing going insane with starvation, deprivation and desperation.
In Waiting for Lefty taxi cab drivers must contend with horrendous working conditions, including violence and intimidation from management if they dared to debate going out on strike. Scenes from these inflamed worker meetings are interspersed with their bleak home life, such as a poetic exchange between a husband and wife on the breadline and facing a hopeless future, and other scenes such as two scientists contemplating blacklisting and espionage.
The lights come up on a tempestuous company meeting at full throttle. Tempers are running high as union members yell from the aisles; it”™s as if we, the audience, are part of the angry forces passionately calling for strike action. While corrupt Union secretary Harry Fatt (Anthony Gruppuso) maintains “the times ain”™t right for a strike,” the rank and file bellows for their elected representative, Lefty, to speak on their behalf. But he”™s nowhere to be found.
Odets joined the American Communist Party in 1934 and used a taxi drivers”™ strike from that year as the inspiration for this, his first play. Waiting for Lefty is an unapologetic piece of agit-prop theatre that borrows heavily from Communist ideology and promotes collective action and unionization as the only means to tip the scales of power away from big business and toward the worker. The characters in the play grow aware of them position as the oppressed class under the thumb of the powerful ruling class, and when this “˜class consciousness”™ becomes too much of a burden, they find themselves backed into a corner with no other option that to go out on strike.
Clifford Odets is considered the most gifted American social protest dramatist of the thirties. This play is more a series of vignettes than a standard three-act drama, but all the scenes build a portrait of social turmoil and desperation.
It”™s difficult to determine exactly whom this emotionally fraught play”™s message was directed at. Odets wanted to rant about the social injustices he perceived, but his Broadway audience was made up of the well-to-do middle class that he was railing against”¦
Nevertheless Waiting for Lefty is a timely and powerful play that is well-worth seeing.
“Waiting For Lefty” (1935) was the first-produced play of activist writer Clifford Odets. It was presented that same year on Broadway by the Group Theatre, a company devoted to honing the talents of its actors and dedicated to developing new works for the American stage.
“Waiting For Lefty” takes place at a union meeting of New York taxi drivers, where the cabbies contemplate a strike. It”™s actually a corrupt company union, and the cabbies will never get anywhere unless they form their own honest union. They await the arrival of Lefty, their elected chairman.
Meanwhile, Odets lets the audience look at intimate details of the lives of the people affected by the shattered economy: A cab driver whose wife threatens to leave him unless he stands up for himself; A lab assistant is asked by his boss to spy on an important chemist; A cabbie and his girlfriend want to marry, but he doesn”™t make enough money to support a family; A company spy is uncovered at the union meeting; A doctor is fired due to the anti-Semitic policies of her hospital, which also plans to close its charity ward.
The play makes its unsubtle point: That everything good and decent that has ever happened for the American worker occurred because brave men and women who worked for a living risked their personal safety, organized, formed unions, and demanded that the bosses give them fair compensation for an honest day”™s work.
The cast of Waiting For Lefty includes David Baer, Charles Baird, Heather Becker, Walter Beery, Elizabeth Bradshaw, Adam Conger, Roger Cruz, Alan Freeman, Jason Galloway, Anthony Gruppuso, Paul Gunning, Heather Keller, Daniel Keough, Don Moore, Alan Schack, Sandra Tucker and Kristin Wiegand.
Waiting For Lefty
3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West,
Los Angeles, CA 90068.
(This is close to North Hollywood, Universal City and Studio City. There is FREE parking in a lot across the street.)
Runs until October 10th, 2010. Fri. & Sat. at 8pm, Sun. at 2pm.
ADMISSION: General admission: $22. Premium seating (first four rows) $25. Seniors (65+) and veterans (with ID) $17. Current military (with ID) $11. KCRW members (with ID) $18. Students (25 and under with ID) $5. Except for the Opening Night September 3 performance, when all seats will be $27 (includes reception).
Box Office & bookings: (323) 851-7977 or online ticketing here.
Review by Pauline Adamek.