David Baer, Charles Baird, Heather Alyse Becker, Walter Beery, Elizabeth Bradshaw, Adam Conger, Roger Cruz, Alan Freeman, Jason Galloway, Anthony Gruppuso, Paul Gunning, Daniel Keough, Donald Moore, Alan Schack, Sandra Tucker and Kristin Wiegand
Set by Jeff Rack | Lights by Yancey Dunham | Sound by Charlie Mount | Stage Manager Rita Cofield | TW Executive Director John Gallogly
RAVE REVIEWS FOR LEFTY!
The Los Angeles Times Theater review: 'Waiting for Lefty' at Theatre West
September 9, 2010 | 2:00 pm -- Charlotte Stoudt
They’re not communists, they’re just broke: “Don’t tell me red,” growls a working stiff, “We’ve been kicked around so long we’re black and blue from head to toes.” A body can’t catch a break in “Waiting for Lefty,” Clifford Odets’ classic 1935 one-act about a group of New York taxi drivers debating whether to strike, now in revival at Theatre West. Pacing designer Jeff Rack’s industrial meeting hall set, stripped of pride and a living wage, these Depression-era Americans stare down a bleak future that looks very much like our present.
Like “Our Town,” written around the same time, “Lefty” triumphs as a paean to Everyman virtues without sounding phony or sentimental. Odets offers sharply drawn vignettes of ordinary people at the end of their rope, from a desperate couple (Paul Gunning and Kristin Wiegand) who can’t feed their children, to a lab assistant (Donald Moore) who quits rather than inform on a fellow employee. This solid Chestnuts production, directed by Charlie Mount, benefits from tight pacing and passionate performances from the large ensemble(although having Dr. Benjamin played by a woman strains credulity). Mount’s own sound design conveys the anxious world outside the union meeting hall, echoing our own urgent era. Undeniably relevant.
This dynamic 1935 one-act launched the career of playwright Clifford Odets, became an important social document, and solidified the reputation of the Group Theatre. Seeing it now, 75 years later, reminds us that there was once a blue-collar theatre audience, and the issues plaguing the country in the Depression era -- corruption, deprivation, injustice, and wars between the haves and the have-nots -- haven't gone away. Some ideas, like the idealization of Stalin's Russia, have been shattered by history, but in other areas, the problems haven't changed, and the audience frequently responded with rueful laughter of recognition. Director Charlie Mount has assembled 16 wonderfully able actors who provide the kind of gritty passion and vitality that must have marked the original legendary production. The play's action is set in the meeting hall of a taxi-driver's union, where union leaders are company apparatchiks, fighting to prevent a strike, while the rank and file are determined to field their own leader, activist Lefty. Along the way we're introduced to a rich cross-section of Depression Era society, until the meeting erupts in violence. Jeff Rack's bleak union-hall set and the authentic-seeming, uncredited costumes evoke the 1930s in a way that has little to do with nostalgia.
BackStage Waiting for Lefty at Theatre West
Reviewed by Dink O'Neal
SEPTEMBER 08, 2010
Hearkening back to an era when the birth of labor organizations was marked by violence and unbridled chicanery, Clifford Odets' groundbreaking treatise on societal inequities remains ever timely during America's current economic crisis. And yet, Odets' obvious leanings toward socialism, and the hindsight that some unions and guilds may have economically hamstrung their own industries, make this piece tricky to pull off. To their credit, director Charlie Mount and his strong ensemble handle this gritty material, foibles and all, with gutsy reverence.
In a series of flashback vignettes during a contentious organizing rally among a group of full- and part-time metropolitan cab drivers who as the title intimates are waiting for their proposed leader, Odets condemns the pressures of poverty, sexism, and ethics. Among this cast of 16 are several nicely drawn characterizations under Mount's firm directorial hand. Kristin Wiegand is remarkable as the wife of one such cabbie, capturing the essence of Depression-era panic as she threatens and cajoles her husband, played by Paul Gunning, to stand up and fight the company for the sake of his children and their marriage. Donald Moore provides an excellent glimpse into the soul of a laboratory technician faced with a financially remunerative temptation, presented by Roger Cruz, whose turn as Moore's oily supervisor is first-rate.
Jason Galloway wrenches the heart as a struggling actor, willing to take any role, who humbles himself to no avail before a pitiless producer, played by Alan Schack. Elizabeth Bradshaw, as a female physician, stoically runs into the thickest of glass ceilings in a scene with her superior, played with genuine compassion by Walter Beery. Perhaps the weakest of these scenes presents a pair of young lovers, played by Adam Conger and Heather Alyse Becker, whose protracted engagement, seemingly hampered by monetary concerns, packs very little emotional punch.
Though certainly dated in its subject matter, the play's parallels to modern issues are evident. And when Wiegand's character arrives with news of the never-seen titular character, it is the spark that lights the fuse on the cannon of change.
A hard-hitting and gut-wrenching gem of an ensemble piece, that captivates the audience, while stunning them with ugly truths that still exist…this is a wonderful production, written by activist/writer Clifford Odets in 1935, it studies the God-given rights of workers to receive fair compensation for an honest day’s work. It takes place at a union meeting of NYC taxi cab drivers in the ‘30’s.
Heatedly contemplating a “strike” against their corrupt union, they await the arrival of their elected chairman, Lefty. Beaten down, angry and destitute, struggling just to get by, we are privy to “spot-lit” intimate details of the personal lives of these people…devastated by a shattered economy. (…not unlike today’s economic situation).
Under the brilliantly executed direction of Charlie Mount, a flawless ensemble cast of 16 actors, bare their souls and tell their stories. Gripping! As enraged cabbies in the aisles shout out their concerns all around us, as well as those featured onstage…we fully realize their insurmountable plight.
Not a weak link in this sizeable cast…I’d like to mention a few unforgettable performances. Anthony Gruppuso was dauntingly despicable as the corrupt company union leader, and Dan Keough was explosive as an angry cabbie, passionately calling for a strike! Adam Conger was heart-wrenching as a young man too penniless to marry his lady love. (A sweet Heather Alysa Becker). The always mind-blowing Paul Gunning, was dynamically daunting as a man whose wife and mother of his hungry children, angrily threatens to leave him, if he doesn’t stand up and strike. (A strong Kristin Wiegand).
With such an inspiring and hard working cast, I must name each of the remaining members: Jason Galloway, Donald Moore, Walter Beery, Elizabeth Bradshaw, Charles Baird, Sandra Tucker, Roger Cruz, Alan Schack, David Baer and Alan Freeman. This is an important and thought provoking play…Do try to catch it!
Running through October 10th at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. in L.A. (Studio City adjacent). For seats call 323-851-7977
Waiting for Lefty – Classic Play at TheatreWest
by George Oakley
You don’t hear the name Clifford Odets much anymore, and if you do, it’s as likely in reference to his name naming during Hollywood’s red scare, or his cavorting with Frances Farmer, than to his work as a playwright. Odets was, in fact, a significant figure in the New York theatre scene in the ‘30s and ‘40s, helping to put the Group Theatre on the map, working closely with Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman and others, presenting edgy, socially relevant plays, and partially paving the way toward the Actors Studio and all that it, like the Group before it, brought and changed.
Waiting for Lefty was not Odets’ first play, nor was it considered his best. It was, however, his first to be produced, and it marked the first big hit for the Group Theatre. The gritty story of cab drivers contemplating a labor strike resonated with the public, not only in New York, but in productions across the country, and even abroad.
TheatreWest’s powerful new production beautifully recaptures the era and its rhythms, as well as the bleak workaday atmosphere of regular folks anxious to toil for the American dream, while living in constant fear that a rock of the boat will send them overboard.
This is one of those shows where you can almost smell the sweat on the brows, smoke in the air, and dust and grime on the walls and floors. Cast members wander the aisles shouting opinions yay or nay regarding a strike, and the audience often feels like they are attending a labor meeting, not a play about one.
The acting is uniformly forceful, raw, and refreshingly unselfconscious. At its best, Lefty presents the best kind of dramatic performances: good acting that doesn’t seem like acting; telling the story, rather than putting on a display of technique or skills.
The proposed hack strike serves as a framework for seven vignettes, each showing struggles of workers in various fields. Some are better than others in TheatreWest’s production, a highlight being the riveting confrontation between worn-out husband Joe (Paul Gunning) and fed-up wife Edna (Kristin Wiegand). Using only a portion of the unchanged set, one fully feels, through their performances, the stark gloom of this couple’s tiny flat, and the tension that pervades it.
Just as good is the scene involving a downtrodden young actor (Jason Galloway) begging a producer’s secretary, and later the producer himself, for a job. Galloway is touching as the starving thesp, with Alan Schack appropriately brusque as the showman. Sandra Tucker is both humorous and heartbreaking as the secretary.
The latter vignette ends with one of the play’s occasional specific mentions of communism. Such are the only instances where the play feels at all dated. Today’s dismal economic and employment climate, and corporate dehumanizing make it plenty relevant, perhaps painfully so.
Additional acting kudos go to Anthony Gruppuso as the blustery union boss Harry Fatt, and Alan Freeman and Charles Baird as brothers on opposite sides of the labor argument.
In such an evocative production, the designers are stars in their own right. Jeff Rack’s set is bleak, yet strangely beautiful; like a classic depression-era photograph. No costume designer is credited, but the garments are effectively grimy, worn, and spot-on for the period.
Finally, Charlie Mount’s direction shapes and focuses the many quality elements into a stunning overall piece of ensemble theatre.
Waiting for Lefty is unashamedly political, even preachy at times, and would be deadly in lesser hands, but Mount and company understand how to drive this classic vehicle, dings and all, and the result is stunning.
ELECTRIFYING DRAMA AND SOCIAL COMMENTARY – ‘WAITING FOR LEFTY’ AT THEATRE WEST
From its electrifying opening minutes to its somber conclusion, a mere 85 minutes later, Clifford Odet’s passionate and politically-charged play Waiting for Lefty is a timeless piece of classic American theatre that you won’t readily forget.
Now being staged at Theatre West, near Universal Studios, Charlie Mount directs a strong cast of sixteen actors. Jeff Rack’s set, some authentic-looking costumes and the mannerisms and demeanor of the large cast takes us back to the mid-1930s, a time fraught with extreme poverty and unrest. This country was still struggling with the aftershocks of the stock market crash of 1929 and as unemployment rates reached their highest peak, employers were drastically reducing wages. The threat of another world war as also looming and meanwhile the workers were slowing going insane with starvation, deprivation and desperation.
In Waiting for Lefty taxi cab drivers must contend with horrendous working conditions, including violence and intimidation from management if they dared to debate going out on strike. Scenes from these inflamed worker meetings are interspersed with their bleak home life, such as a poetic exchange between a husband and wife on the breadline and facing a hopeless future, and other scenes such as two scientists contemplating blacklisting and espionage.
The lights come up on a tempestuous company meeting at full throttle. Tempers are running high as union members yell from the aisles; it’s as if we, the audience, are part of the angry forces passionately calling for strike action. While corrupt Union secretary Harry Fatt (Anthony Gruppuso) maintains “the times ain’t right for a strike,” the rank and file bellows for their elected representative, Lefty, to speak on their behalf. But he’s nowhere to be found.
Odets joined the American Communist Party in 1934 and used a taxi drivers’ strike from that year as the inspiration for this, his first play. Waiting for Lefty is an unapologetic piece of agit-prop theatre that borrows heavily from Communist ideology and promotes collective action and unionization as the only means to tip the scales of power away from big business and toward the worker. The characters in the play grow aware of them position as the oppressed class under the thumb of the powerful ruling class, and when this ‘class consciousness’ becomes too much of a burden, they find themselves backed into a corner with no other option that to go out on strike.
Clifford Odets is considered the most gifted American social protest dramatist of the thirties. This play is more a series of vignettes than a standard three-act drama, but all the scenes build a portrait of social turmoil and desperation.
It’s difficult to determine exactly whom this emotionally fraught play’s message was directed at. Odets wanted to rant about the social injustices he perceived, but his Broadway audience was made up of the well-to-do middle class that he was railing against…
Nevertheless Waiting for Lefty is a timely and powerful play that is well-worth seeing.
“Waiting For Lefty” (1935) was the first-produced play of activist writer Clifford Odets. It was presented that same year on Broadway by the Group Theatre, a company devoted to honing the talents of its actors and dedicated to developing new works for the American stage.
“Waiting For Lefty” takes place at a union meeting of New York taxi drivers, where the cabbies contemplate a strike. It’s actually a corrupt company union, and the cabbies will never get anywhere unless they form their own honest union. They await the arrival of Lefty, their elected chairman.
Meanwhile, Odets lets the audience look at intimate details of the lives of the people affected by the shattered economy: A cab driver whose wife threatens to leave him unless he stands up for himself; A lab assistant is asked by his boss to spy on an important chemist; A cabbie and his girlfriend want to marry, but he doesn’t make enough money to support a family; A company spy is uncovered at the union meeting; A doctor is fired due to the anti-Semitic policies of her hospital, which also plans to close its charity ward.
The play makes its unsubtle point: That everything good and decent that has ever happened for the American worker occurred because brave men and women who worked for a living risked their personal safety, organized, formed unions, and demanded that the bosses give them fair compensation for an honest day’s work.
The cast of Waiting For Lefty includes David Baer, Charles Baird, Heather Becker, Walter Beery, Elizabeth Bradshaw, Adam Conger, Roger Cruz, Alan Freeman, Jason Galloway, Anthony Gruppuso, Paul Gunning, Heather Keller, Daniel Keough, Don Moore, Alan Schack, Sandra Tucker and Kristin Wiegand.
As a passionate piece of 20th century history, it works. As a parable for the present day, not so much.
Clifford Odets’ 1935 Depression-era play Waiting for Lefty is a rabble-rousing tirade against big business and its heavy-handed control of the “downtrodden masses.” A situation that might resonate with Americans today, except for the out-of-date solution Odets offers: Russian-style socialism.
Nevertheless, Director Charlie Mount has assembled a truly committed and convincing ensemble---extraordinary actors, every one of them. They represent a branch of the taxi drivers’ union, shouting their stories from the stage and from the audience. And the stories themselves are, sadly, relevant today.
A young couple (Heather Alyse Becker and Adam Conger) can’t afford to get married. A charity patient dies during routine surgery. A man (Paul Gunning) is verbally attacked by his wife (Kristin Wiegand) for not standing up to his bosses. (”You are stalled like a flivver in the snow,” she tells him.) A doctor with seniority (Elizabeth Bradshaw) is “down-sized” because she is a woman and a Jew. “You don’t believe a theory until it happens to you,” she says. And another man (Jason Galloway) is rudely turned away when applying for a job. He is comforted by a secretary (Sandra Tucker) who offers him a book that she suggests will help him. It is Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Communist Manifesto.
The vignettes are gripping and filled with pathos and elicit an emotional response from the audience. As does Anthony Gruppuso, who plays Harry Fatt, the representative from Management. If anyone can steal this excellent show, Gruppuso does. He is a fireball, charging all over the stage, one moment cajoling, another shouting disputations, getting into a fistfight, and holding back the union’s decision to strike. He is everywhere at once, and if the audience had been provided with eggs, he’s the one they would have bombarded.
In another telling vignette, a worker in a chemical plant (Donald Moore) is offered a huge pay raise by his boss (Roger Cruz) to spy on a fellow scientist who is working on poison gas. True to Odets’ socialist philosophy about the goodness of “the common man,” the compromised worker refuses, even though it means he will lose his job.
Capitalism, the clash between the various classes, and the ever-present bigotry against immigrants and other outsiders, is what the play is all about. It was a dark time, the ‘30s, when up to 25% of the American work force was out of work. Almost makes the current recession, with just under 10% out of work, look easy. But unfortunately, the roots are pretty much the same.
And I think that’s the point Director Mount is trying to make.
He does this on a nearly empty stage and with a few wooden chairs put together by Set Designer Jeff Rack. And skuzzy outfits, including scuffed and battered shoes, as well as dramatic lighting designed by Yancey Dunham.
Just about the only things that don’t work well are the great billows of mist that are extruded periodically onto the stage in an attempt to simulate a “smoke-filled” union hall. Since nobody on stage is ever seen smoking, the mist sort of misses the point.
But this is a small nitpick in a classic play about a time that older viewers will remember ruefully and younger people will learn about with astonishment and, perhaps, incredulity.
"The most important play currently being presented in Los Angeles, and possibly the BEST PRODUCTION OF 2010."Jesther Entertainment
Listen to an interview with "Waiting For Lefty" director Charlie Mount on KPFK's show "Uprising" with host Sonali Kolhatkar. Included is an excerpt from the show with "Lefty" cast members Paul Gunning and Kristin Wiegand.
General - $22
Premium (First Four Rows) - $25
Seniors - $17
Veterans (with ID) - $17
Current Military (with ID) - $11
Students (25 and under with ID) - $5
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Thanks To The Lloyd E. Rigler - Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation and The Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation
"If democracy were to be given any meaning, if it were to go beyond the limits of capitalism and nationalism, this would not come -- if history were any guide -- from the top. It would come though citizens' movements, educating, organizing, agitating, striking, boycotting, demonstrating, threatening those in power with disruption of the stability they needed." ~ Howard Zinn, A People's History of The United States
“Waiting For Lefty” is a classic, and is a Chestnuts production. Chestnuts is the division of the theatre devoted to keeping alive important classics of theatrical literature. Chestnuts was founded by Charlie Mount, who produces and directs the current show. He recently scored two major hits at Theatre West, directing “Gaslight” (for Chestnuts) and “Acting: The First Six Lessons” (Beau and Emily Bridges’ new adaptation of Richard Boleslavsky’s book).
ABOUT WAITING FOR LEFTY
Unite and fight. Sixty-five years later, the message still resounds in a California in economic danger. It’s no coincidence that Theatre West is opening this show on Labor Day weekend.
“Waiting For Lefty” takes place at a union meeting of New York taxi drivers, where the cabbies contemplate a strike. As they wait for Lefty Costello, their elected Chairman, they share their stories, and explain how they became cabbies, and what brought them to the meeting. We meet Joe, whose wife threatens to leave him unless he stands up for himself; Miller, a lab assistant asked by his boss to help produce poison gas for the military; Syd and Florrie, a young couple who want to marry but have come to realize that no future exists for them. A company spy is uncovered at the meeting. A doctor is fired because she's a Jew. A young actor is bluntly schooled about value of commerce over art. As they wait for Lefty's leadership the cabbie's shared anger and frustration moves them -- thrilling -- to action. Not just for better wages, but for a better country.
ABOUT CLIFFORD ODETS
Odets (1906-1963) left behind a legacy of classics for the stage (“Awake and Sing!,” “Clash by Night,” “Rocket to the Moon,” “The Country Girl,” “The Big Knife,” “Golden Boy,” “The Flowering Peach”) and screen (“The Sweet Smell of Success,” “Wild in the Country,” the latter starring Elvis Presley as a troubled youth). The contention between the hard worker and the exploitive boss was a recurring theme in Odets’ work.
“Waiting For Lefty” (1935) was Clifford Odets' first-produced play. It was presented on Broadway by the Group Theatre, a company devoted to honing the talents of its actors and dedicated to developing new works for the American stage…..much like Theatre West.