Recently, as part of association with STAGE online, I have had two exciting theatrical review opportunities … one involved a very inventive and thought-provoking production of HAMLET in Maryland and the other a confrontational and equally thought-provoking production of WAITING FOR LEFTY at South Camden Theatre Company (SCTC) in New Jersey. Both of these productions bounced theatrical conventions against modern political thought.
While the creativity used with HAMLET was based in audio/video, WAITING FOR LEFTY used a drab brick set with mismatched chairs to set the scene of what was to come. With this play, Clifford Odets defined to the theatrical world what would become known as “agit-prop” theater. The agit-prop genre is a combination of Agitation and Propaganda. Odets never intended this to amuse or to be light-hearted entertainment. He wanted to use the social power of theater to encourage political and personal change.
Director, Joseph M. Paprzycki, gave his opening night audience just that. Paprzycki’s WAITING FOR LEFTY was a forceful and emotional set of vignettes of unjust victimization. At a time when there was NO unemployment insurance, NO union-based work, health and salary safeguards, and NO government regulation around hiring practices based on religion, etc, Odets wrote about and Paprzycki showcases how a group of cabbies struggling to make a living in 1935 New York during the Depression reach their ultimate decision to strike. In Paprzycki’s own words in the Director’s Notes, “This play speaks to us today with its message of corruption, unemployment and underemployment, health care and a society where the “haves” have so much…”
In the first scene the bombastic, cigar-smoking Harry Fatt (played to evoke just the right amount of immediate dislike by Randall McCann) berates these working men to support their government leaders by putting up with the continually diminishing salaries and constantly extended work hours. Odets then places a series of family and work life vignettes throughout this one hour long production to balance Fatt’s union-supported position with resounding representations of the brutal, conniving and greedy employers and their total indifference to their employees and their families.
Each actor in this engaging and emotionally wrenching ensemble of workers, family and friends brought life to what could have been a historical curiosity delivered with the heavy hand of leftish propaganda. The dramaturgy done with the ensemble gave them what they needed to make each unfamiliar expression convey the same sentiment it did in 1935. As each victimization was uncovered, each actor’s performance made it uncomfortably easy to equate each situation with something that continues in the US today. Each actor, with his/her lean, haggard physicality and the drab and hanging costumes, reinforced the reality of their lives. When the final brutality is brought to their attention and the oppression of the union hall breaks down into a fistfight, there is nothing left but to strike.
The set was dark, the emotions were dark, the outcome was dark … this WAITING FOR LEFTY succeeded in doing what Odets wanted. It cried for CHANGE!
This is a time-honored piece of agit-prop. Come to see it for that reason! Come to see it for the wonderful ensemble work! Come to see it for the eye-opening commentary! Just come and see it!!
WAITING FOR LEFTY
by Clifford Odets
Directed by Joseph M. Paprzycki
February 4 – 20, 2011
South Camden Theatre Company
Waterfront South Theatre
400 Jasper Street
Camden, NJ 08104