BWW Reviews: Street Corner Arts Stages Powerful and Moving WAITING FOR LEFTY
WAITING FOR LEFTY was written in 1935 by Clifford Odets. The play is, and was written as, an immersive piece of theatre. It is, ostensibly, a meeting of cab drivers who are gathering to plan a strike. As an audience member, you become a part of that meeting. While the meeting is going on, we are exposed to a series of scenes which are related to the meeting in that they delve into the lives of the characters to frame what brought them to this meeting. What is striking is that nearly 80 years later, WAITING FOR LEFTY still resonates and has something to say to modern audiences... especially those who struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis.
WAITING FOR LEFTY was the first of Odets plays to be produced and the success made possible his masterwork, "Awake and Sing". It presented theatre that was socially and politically relevant to audiences who, at the time, were used to purely entertaining fare. Odets piece isn't really about a strike, or even about unionization. He uses the strike as a framework that allows him to address a larger issue, namely the fact that in the middle of the Great Depression capitalism stood unaltered. The anger then and the anger now bear striking similarities.
Director Benjamin Summers has staged a tight, moving production. The show begins around the audience as the actors assemble for the meeting, greeting each other. The vignettes that happen outside of the meeting are done with great fluidity and economy of motion. He also gets some amazing performances out of his brilliant ensemble... one of the best I've seen in town in quite a while. The entire evening has an exciting and energizing build to it and I look forward to seeing the next show he directs.
The ensemble features sixteen actors, all of whom are top notch. It is difficult to single out individual members of a company this strong; but Hildreth England, Michael Ferstenfeld, Molly Fonseca, Claire Grasso, David Higgins, Katie Kohler, Garry Peters and Zac Thomas all delivered stand-out performances... not an easy thing to do in such a uniformly excellent ensemble.
The set by A. Skola Summers and lighting by Don Day & Shelby Gephart were both impressive. I was struck by how the set kept being used to show locales with such economy and how subtle changes in lighting supported the performers emotional state. Monica Gibson's costuming work was also quite good, recreating the 30's feel most effectively. While the program doesn't credit the pre-show musical selections, I thought the collection of protest songs used really helped set the mood for the performance to come.
WAITING FOR LEFTY reminds us of the power of theatre to not only entertain, but to educate and enlighten... something I'd like to see audiences reminded of more often.
WAITING FOR LEFTY by Clifford Odets
Running time: Approximately One hour with no intermission
WAITING FOR LEFTY, produced by Street Corner Arts, at Hyde Park Theatre (511 W. 43rd St, Austin, TX, 78751) Dec. 5th - 20th, 2014. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets: www.streetcornerarts.org or (512) 298-9776.