Chicago Theatre Review

Chicago Theatre Review

An Inspirational Meeting at American Blues

September 11, 2011 News Comments Off on An Inspirational Meeting at American Blues

By Devlyn Camp

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American Blues Theater is jumpstarting their new season with a punching Depression-era one act that speaks volumes for the working class underdog. Clifford Odets’ play Waiting For Lefty is a fictional take on 40-day taxi strike of the mid-30s. Today’s younger generation knows very little about the importance of a strike. In fact, the only recent strike that comes to mind is the 2007-2008 Writers Guild strike, during which the biggest problem for many outside the fight meant the delay of a movie or losing a handful of episodes from their television lineup. In our days of reality programming and closer-to-reality sitcoms, our generation’s strike story is only a flickering light next to 1935’s gunfire and mobbing chaos.

Lefty is a one hour union meeting in which the attendees wait for their leader to arrive to take the next steps. In this hour, each person’s story is told before the crowd in a series of vignettes. The focus is on family. How can a father provide? How far can a mother’s morals be pushed to put change in her pocket? How can a woman grow to start her own family? Gwendolyn Whiteside’s performance catalyzes the audience’s emotional understanding of the time as she makes her financially responsible decision whether to leave her fiance while they dance together to her record player. They fantasize in their cute, lovable way about dressing up and being in the glamorous movies. The song ends and the record bumps as she sits to cry in her chair. It thuds along in the silence like a heartbeat. It becomes clear that this is what the stories are about: the heart. What the heart wants romantically and parentally, and what the

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heart needs physically to survive.

In a time when real life is far from “just like in the movies,” jobs are lost, families starve, and it seems shaking a fist at God is the only thing one can afford to do. Cheryl Graeff, playing Dr. Benjamin, sends the potential strike into a stir when her job is threatened and her medical skills are overlooked because she is Jewish. Kimberly Senior presents the story in a way of saying that this isn’t just a period piece, it’s a story for today, too. To reach for your rights is human, and everyone should hold up their fist when it becomes necessary. By the end of the act, the American workers don’t have to imagine how to live in the movies because the fight they start will become the stories told on the stage. They didn’t need to wait for Lefty all along. They had the strength among them the entire time. Senior’s presentation is proof that education is at its most powerful when in the theatre.

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