By Elana Katz
With warm weather approaching and spring soon to arrive, it is time for a fresh start.
This past week the campus was offered an opportunity to look back at the tumultuous 1930s through Clifford Odets Waiting for Lefty, a play that surrounds the taxi driver strikes of 1934. The play ran under the direction of guest director David Girard, who asks the question, “is Waiting for Lefty still relevant today? You tell me, or better, you’re about to find out.” That, I did.
The audience is quickly ushered into 1934 with upbeat music from several guitars, piano, and drums. In high spirits, the actors open the show by singing iconic songs such as “Revolution” by the Beatles and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” by Bob Dylan, establishing a revolutionary tone.
While the songs may not be historically accurate, they illustrate exactly what Girard had touched upon. The issues that Lefty addresses are timeless as they recur in the 60s, 80s, and even with the recession of the late 2000s.
Jasmine Roth ’14, who plays a leading voice of the Union, explains, “with our current economic climate in hand, it’s really appropriate to be able to perform Waiting for Lefty, a play written during and about the Depression.”
Along with historical significance, the music cements the turbulence of this period. The music is used as a vehicle through which to show audiences how art influenced the political and economic turmoil of the time.
The music stops, and Girard comes back on stage, forcing the Union members to get back to work. He then addresses the audience, illustrating that Lefty makes use of the audience as a player in the show, breaking the fourth wall.
Robyn Belt ’14 explains, “this show is a highly interactive experience for both the audience and the actors.” Lefty incites the help of the audience to maintain the pace of the play and, for that reason, it is a truly unique experience in the theater and such a pleasure to watch.
As the play progresses, the audience is introduced to various members of the Union through vignettes, in which they divulge the troubles that plague their daily lives.
Edna, played by Robyn Belt ’14, and Joe, played by Joe Kiernan ’13, are a couple living under very rough circumstances in which they can’t afford to feed and clothe their kids. So too Phillip, played by Ryan Semerad ’13, is a struggling actor left begging Ms. Grady, played by Jackie Toop ’12, for a job so he can prepare for the birth of his baby.
Each vignette illustrates the dire circumstances each character faces, and all that is left to do is strike, raise their spirits, and attempt to retain that unwavering American optimism.
Waiting for Lefty gives us a great look at the struggles but also the power of the people to evoke change. As the play comes to end, the audience is left with a final image of the Union with their fists held in the air, shouting “strike, strike, strike…” and illustrating the empowering feeling of a group banded together in favor of change.