The miraculous thing about theatre is its transcendence and relevance over time. Politics and social movements certainly can push a past work to the forefront. South Pacific is still as relevant today as it was in the forties with its storyline focusing on racial intolerance as are a slew of plays that are now finding themselves restaged in the midst of this countries current struggles. The most relevant is Clifford Odets' 1935 one-act "Waiting For Lefty" currently being mounted by the talented American Blues Theatre.
Through seven vignettes, Odets weaves the stories of the working class who is striking as their only alternative to their power hungry bosses. The stories, which are said to be based on the famous New York City taxi strike of 1934 could very well be telling the story of 2011 teachers, city and auto workers who are on the front page of every newspaper bargaining for what is fair and equal.
Director Kimberly Senior has assembled a cast of around twenty five people, some of whom are merely filler for the union hall. The featured actors for each vignette are for the most part quite extraordinary in their connection with the material. Of the best, Zachary Kennedy and Gwendolyn Whiteside give amazing performances taking each of their characters on a full-circle journey in fifteen minutes. Also, Suzanne Petri, who is one of Chicago's finest cabaret performers, give breath and weight to her stenographer who is wise, mothering and foreboding in her transition to becoming a communist. Unfortunately, others do not fair as well such as Rinska Carrasco-Amazing seems disconnected from her scene partner and the material. This wouldn't be so awkward but her scene is the first in the show and could have set a bad pace for what was to follow. Fortunately, the other actors didn't falter.
Otherwise, American Blues Theatre has given us a historical, relevant an emotional experience that will keep you talking days after you have seen the production. That is what great theatre is suppose to do and "Waiting For Lefty" is a historical gem that must be seen and absorbed while it is playing.
"Waiting For Lefty" runs through October 2nd at the Victory Gardens' Richard Christiansen Theatre, 2422 N. Lincoln Ave. For tickets or more information, please call 773-871-3000 or visit www.americanbluestheater.com
Note: After the Sunday matinees, American Blues Theatre will feature Town Hall discussions on various union and labor issues. Also, in the Playbill, dramaturge Kelli Marino writes a wonderful essay on the history of the play as well as the governmental programs and funding that allowed the work to flourish.