Minot State University's Theatre Arts program is currently performing Clifford Odets' "Waiting for Lefty" through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Aleshire Theater.
Can one man make a difference? What about a million? The profound political and social messages of equality, fairness and justice in "Lefty" are just as relevant today as they were in 1935.
In the play, directed by Kevin Neuharth, MSU communication arts associate professor, a 1934 New York taxi union strike serves as the backdrop to several vignettes that build upon a planning meeting to strike for a living wage. When Lefty Costello, the committee and pro-strike faction leader, goes missing, it becomes the duty and responsibility of union members to step up and hold their officials accountable for the change that is so desperately needed. When everyone's future hangs in the balance and lives are put on the line, will the radical approach become the only option?
Union leader Harry Fatt, played by Daniel Johnson, right, delivers a speech as Levy Cabatingan, left, as Miller, and Jason Gaarder, as Philips, look on during a recent rehearsal of the play “Waiting for Lefty,” being performed through Saturday night at MSU’s Aleshire Theater.
"Waiting for Lefty" is a poignant glimpse into the 1930s that puts the plight of the nation's unions and underprivileged in the spotlight. Set at the heart of the Great Depression, the era was marked by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, a political plan of relief for the unemployed, recovery of the economy, and reformation of finance and transportation industries. It was also the year the Dust Bowl storms devastated the Midwest and tales of Bonnie and Clyde gripped the nation. Times were tough for many, and with little or nothing more to lose, the "little guys" begin to stand up against "the man" for what is right and just.
"It is truly one of the most important plays of the American Depression era," Neuharth said. "It is vital to be passionate about what you stand for. Everyone has the right to stand up for what they believe in. In fact, more than a right, they have a duty."
Support for the strike is high among the union members, who balk and rebuke the claims and arguments of the arrogant and corrupt union leader, Harry Fatt (played by Daniel Johnson), who pulls out all the stops to discourage them from walking out. As they all anxiously wait for their leader, Lefty, a series of flashbacks
reveal the path taken by each of the committee members to find themselves at the precipice of the impending strike. Joe (Joshua Snyder) has his priorities sorted out by his wife, Edna (Erin Kampen); Mr. Phillips (Jason Gaarder), a young actor, is embraced as a comrade by a casting director's secretary (Krys Zorbaugh); a young medical intern (Emily Taylor) is reminded of her place in society by her boss (Charles Wollschlager); the hearts of two young lovers, Sid and Florie (Jordan Crawford and Elizabeth Ryan), are torn apart by the uncertainty of Sid's life as a hack; and Keller (Cole Anderson) can no longer remain silent.
The play was first presented by the famous Group Theatre in New York and is considered to be one the greatest examples of agitprop theatre. Inspired by Communist ideology, Odets promotes collective action and unionization as a means to empower the working class. The play symbolized the era, acting as a beacon for many soon-to-be-famous playwrights who came under its influence.
For tickets, contact the Aleshire Theater box office at 858-3172. Ticket prices are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students under 18. MSU students, faculty and staff get in free with current MSU ID. Reservations are encouraged.
(Krys Zorbaugh is a member of the MSU Theatre Arts program.)