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Waiting for Lefty

TimeOut Chicago

Issue 138: Oct 18-24, 2007
BY KRIS VIRE

Would any major American playwright today generate a play as overtly revolutionary, as full of incitement as Waiting For Lefty? At Lefty’s 1935 premiere, critic Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times that “the progress of the revolutionary drama in New York City during the last two seasons is the most obvious recent development in our theatre.” Does that spirit still exist?

Or are modern playwrights only interested in class distinctions as sources of tension for their wealthy main characters (as in Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House) and in the poor as exaggerated white-trash caricatures (as in Adam Rapp’s Stone Cold Dead Serious)? Even the late August Wilson, who found more mainstream success in writing about the lower classes than most recent playwrights, was writing more as a chronicler of history than an activist seeking to light a fire.

While we ponder that question, we have Kae’s searing revival of Lefty to remind us of the power of political theater done well. Odets’s collage of scenes leading up to a taxi drivers’ strike alternates between a fractious union meeting and flashbacks to the individual indignities that led the little guys to stand up. Kae’s well-cast ensemble rarely overplays its hand, but it’s the domestic scenes that stand out: Andy Baldeschwiler and Rebekah Ward-Hays excel as a husband and wife at wit’s end, and Robert Fagin and Brenda Barrie break our hearts as young lovers doomed by economic circumstance. When the ensemble chants, “Strike! Strike!,” at the one-act’s end, we’re more than ready to march.

 
           

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