BWW Reviews: Theatreworks and LIDA Project Explore the Forgotten History of LUDLOW, 1914
Despite living in Colorado for all of my thirty-mutter years, I was not familiar with the Ludlow Massacre until Theatreworks announced its collaboration with The LIDA Project on a production commemorating the event's centennial year.
It wasn't discussed in school. Local history courses focused on safely colorful figures like Zebulon Pike, Molly Brown, and Chief Ouray-maybe Alferd Packer if the teacher wanted to indulge a morbid bent. The Colorado Coalfield War, with its atrocities committed on both sides and mixed conclusion (the strike itself failed, but helped influence the labor reforms that were enacted over the following decades), didn't figure in the curriculum. Too complicated, perhaps; or too close to home.
Ludlow, 1914 is not a history lesson-indeed, audiences expecting to hear particulars of the strike beyond what is presented in the program notes will likely be disappointed (the massacre itself is presented as a chaotic, abstract pantomime). Rather, it is a freeform exploration of the themes, both historical and current, evoked by the event: wealth inequality, worker's rights, media bias, fossil fuel dependence. Children relate an allegorical tale of a clan of people living in the body of a giant monster. An interpretation of the folk song "Sixteen Tons" demonstrates the indentured servitude of company town monopolies. Wealthy owners recite Shakespeare while standing above the stage like indifferent gods. Actors step out of their roles to discuss the implications of the text and their presentation of it.
It's all a lot to take in, as the play bounces from William Blake to the Bible to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song," but that's okay. Ludlow, 1914 is an immersive experience, from the naked bulbs lighting the house to the cast "biographies" (which describe the lives of early 20th century miners rather than past roles and family shout-outs), so don't worry if something goes by too fast or doesn't seem to make sense. The energetic, multi-talented cast provides plenty to entertain and contemplate, with standouts among the ensemble including Terry Burnsed, Beth Clements, Margaret Kasahara, and Tom Paradise (who takes on the mantle of the wealthy industrialist and defends the position of the successful capitalist via a re-working of "Bein' Green").
So much happens in Ludlow, 1914 that it's a bit of a shock when it's over; the opening night audience's applause was tinged with an air of confusion, as if they weren't sure the play was truly finished. But it's only fitting that Ludlow's story should be open-ended. With McDonald's workers staging walkouts in search of a livable wage and corporations exercising the same public relations tactics that were first implemented a century ago, it's clear the story is not over yet.
The Theatreworks and LIDA Project's co-production of LUDLOW, 1914 runs now through September 28th at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm with Saturday matinees September 20th and 27th at 2pm and Sunday matinees at 4pm. For tickets, contact the box office at 719-255-3232 or visit theatreworkscs.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Kearney
From This Author Christi Esterle