Speeding in the left lane

Waiting for Lefty

By Clifford Odets
Directed by Tanya Klein
Creative Artists Laboratory
Trilogy Theater
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Dudley Stone

Audiences arriving for Creative Artists Laboratory's Waiting For Lefty were shown into the Trilogy's 30-seat black box, which represented a union hall. A violent argument was already taking place there between taxi drivers wanting to strike and their uion delegate, apparently "in bed with the bosses." Clearly, this was in-your-face theatre, and one half-expected the Mayor to come in and join in the sound and fury. Clifford Odets's first play, a one-act only an hour long, has to do with the cynical exploitation of the working classes (taxi drivers in 1935 made $5 a week) and was the first of many blue-collar dramas that, led by the Group Theatre 60 years ago, hit home hard to Depression audiences. It is still timely.

Before going to Hollywood, Odets went on to write far stronger plays, like Awake And Sing, The Country Girl, and Golden Boy, and established himself firmly in the history of the American theatre. The fledgling playwright is very much in evidence here: the arguments are heavily loaded in favor of the working man and woman, and the bosses are ruthless, cynical, heartless monsters. Much of the dialogue doesn't ring true. (Lefty, by the way, like Godot, never shows up: he has been gunned down by the power elite.) To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at some of the situations in this play; other scenes are quite moving. On the whole, though, director Tanya Klein did as well as possible with this unfinished piece.

And yet. of course, this was very much the way things were in the late '30s, when all but a very few were really hurting, and in the midst of it the theatre of social proteset was telling the story. And unions were needed because the bosses, given the chance, will always exploit. While watching this play it was hard not to ask, given the Asian economic collapse and the uneasiness about a continually booming stock market, could this happen again? It's good to see plays that really make an audience think and that resonate long after leaving the theatre. They are in short supply, so Creative Artists Laboratory is to be thanked for resurrecting a much-neglected and somewhat maligned playwright's work, particularly since the taxi-driver strike theme is so apposite.

The cast of 11 was extremely energetic, but the vituperations of the union hall for the first 10 minutes were so loud and intense that it was difficult to hear what the actors were saying, so the transitions to the few short, quieter, domestic scenes were somewhat unwieldy, especially in such a small space. If some actors stood out over others, it was usually because they made more noise; but acting is, after all, much more than just sound and fury. Neverthesless, this kind of energy, confrontation, and conflict is the heart of theatre, and attention had to be paid to it. And this was a laboratory, after all, which is perhaps why the play ultimately seemed more like a series of short scene studies than a complete play. Brian Luna, as Keller, did good work, especially in his rousing closing speech, and Jeff Karr, as Joe; Mindy Castle, as Edna; and Becky Leonard, as Florrie had some good moments. Also featuring Michael Jalbert, David Wenzel, Brian Guzman, Chantel Gonzalez, Philip Alexander, Ann Thomas Moore, and Matthew Hubbard. Set: Michael Jalbert.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting: 0

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Copyright 1998 Dudley Stone