Thursday November 23rd 2017

“Waiting For Lefty”

Every once in awhile, a theater company will take a classic play out of the “mothballs” ( so to speak) and stage it for a new audience. Such is the case with American Blues Theater, one of Chicago’s oldest Equity ensemble companies, who has selected Clifford Odet’s classic “Waiting For Lefty” to kick-start its 2011/2012 season. This one-act play honors the American working man during a period that is very close to what we are seeing in today’s economical crunch. This play was inspired by the 1934 taxi cab strike in New York. 1934 was a time of crisis and people were losing their jobs, their homes and in many cases, their families. One only has to pick up today’s paper and see that things havn’t changed that much ( except we have more dollars that are worth less).

Directed by Kimberly Senior in the very intimate Richard Christiansen Theater ( upstairs at the Biograph/Victory Gardens), many of the audience members who are amongst you, may be cast members as we, the audience are put into the position of being in a Town Hall, where all are “Waiting For Lefty”, a man that the workers trust and have faith in. We first hear from Mr. Fatt ( as usual a brilliant performance by Terry Hamilton) and as he talks about the Depression and the Communist Movement and of course Unions and how the workers were mistreated, many of them thinking that perhaps a Socialist lifestyle would make their days better. This play truly opens one’s eyes to “class consciousness” and how the rich get richer and the poor survive ( in many cases, just barely)! As the play progresses we meet many characters, common workers along with scientists and of course the Taxi drivers. Their little stories are created by the ensemble of players who are onstage for the entire 60 plus minutes, and as needed, take center stage to reveal what their lives have become during these troubled times.

This is a strong ensemble and one of the few where members will take on leading roles as well as bit parts- they are there to create the story that they want to convey to the audience and work as a unit to make that a reality.
The scene between Joe ( Derek Gaspar) and his wife (Rinska Carrasco-Amazing) could just as easily been in 2010 instead of 1934 and The stenographer ( deftly handled by Suzanne Petri) trying to tell the actor(Manny Buckley) to pick up a copy of the communist paper truly makes you think about how people searched for something better than what they had.

There were also strong performances by Cheryl Graeff, the amazing Gwendolyn Whiteside, Mechelle Moe, Zachary Kenney,Andrew Burden Swanson,Bradford Lund,John Mohrlein,Bradford R. Lund,John Byrnes and Warren Levon, who’s character Agate brings the story to a rousing close. Don’t be surprised if you get caught up enough to rise to your feet with the cast. It just feels right!

During the period that this play was written, there was something called “The Living Newspaper”, where playwrights and authors could create stories that were right for the times. Many of our young playwrights are showcased in Chicago at smaller theaters and with our current situation, many will have the appearance of “Waiting For Lefty”. This is one for actors and writers to see just for the classic lessons these performers teach us. “There are no small parts, ( a classic line from “The Fantastiks”), only small actors”! The set by Jack Magaw is very “of the times” and the costumes by Samantha C. Jones and Elizabeth Flauto are very realistic of the era. Heather Gilbert does some wonderful lighting to draw us into the action and Sarah Burnham’s props are great!
“Waiting For Lefty” will continue through October 2nd with performances as follows:
Thursday and Friday evenings at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the box office located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue ( at Fullerton and Halsted); by phone at 773-871-3000 or visit www.americanbluestheater.com

Post show discussions will take place on Sundays with some notable speakers and there is no extra charge, so atay a bit and learn more about theater and unions,Labor history and the importance of unions in today’s world. Check out the website for exact discussions.

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