Waiting for Lefty," Clifford Odets' one-act of the Depression, still rings with vitality and truth. Director Joanne Woodward has fueled a superb ensemble with the fury of a gathering storm. The play is set in a union hall, played out on a barren wooden platform and performed in the round. As the actors merge with the surrounding audience, there is a chilling feeling of realism and urgency (period songs played just before the start of the action evoke the time and place).
Flashback scenes reveal various elements of poverty, injustice and political reality in the homes of workers, a hospital and a producer’s office. Odets never wasted a word. The language in each vignette rolls with thunder, and Woodward has found the proper balance between unrest and rage.
A young taxi driver and his g.f. dream of a life and family together but are discouraged by the economic crisis of the time. In this production, Sid and Florrie are a black couple (acted with conviction by Wood Harris and Lisa Renee Pitts), bringing poignancy to such moments as when Sid whispers a fragment of Andy Razaf’s searching lyric of racial shame, “What did I do to be so black and blue?”
The actors unite with conviction: Jerry Mayer as the burly and bullying union boss, Greg Naughton as the idealistic chemist who would rather sacrifice his job than assist in the manufacture of poison gas, Peter Jacobson as a young actor who auditions for a role with manic desperation.
Marisa Tomei adds an angry and poignant account of a distraught housewife, urging her gutless husband to rout the thugs from the union, and Robert Hogan, as an aggressive agitator who stirs the drivers to a near-brawl, leads the brief narrative to its tragic finale.
All the tech assists, from a bold lighting design to plain ’30s costumes, accent the mood of a country in distress and the pungent voice of a young playwright.