Mixed casts from Bloomington’s North and South Highschools are acting in an evening of plays from the 1930s by Clifford Odets at the Waldron Arts Center. North’s Francesca Sobrer directs the rough, agitation and propaganda piece "Waiting for Lefty," and Catherine Rademacher directs the equally socially conscious family drama "Awake and Sing." More than forty-five students were involved in the production.
"Waiting for Lefty" has the audience playing the part of a bunch of underpaid taxi drivers in a union hall trying to decide whether to go out on strike. We heard speeches by the corrupt union leader and talk from impassioned hack drivers. The tense atmosphere of the meeting was interspersed with scenes from the workers’ lives. A couple can’t feed or clothe their children. Another couple can’t figure out how they can ever afford to marry and be moral people. There are also scenes of corruption in other parts of society. A lab assistant refuses to make poison gas and spy for the company on her colleagues. A Jewish doctor is fired when a charity ward is closed and discrimination writes pink slips. The desperate union boss even brings in a labor spy masquerading as a fellow worker. "Waiting for Lefty" ended with a crescendo of calls to "Strike, Strike, Strike" and applause from the appreciative audience.
Now there were plenty of good performances in the show. I was especially impressd with Adam Nahas as Fatt the corrupt labor leader and Nicole Bruce as the young wife, Edna, but what struck me the most was the overall level of the cast. It’s a big cast and most are on stage for the whole show. The level of confidence and attention that each and every actor had was a real pleasure to see.
Following a brief intermission, we moved on to "Awake and Sing." The show is informed by the same sorts of concerns and consciousness that Odets brought to "Waiting for Lefty." But the issues are more complicated. And although there is a clear resolution, it’s nowhere near as simple or satisfying as the "Strike" cry at the end of "Waiting for Lefty."
The Berger family has three generations under one roof. There’s Grandpa Jacob, his son Myron, Myron’s wife Bessie, and their two grown children, Hennie and Ralph. Once again we get Odets’ message that it can be the youth who will have the new ideas and the energy for positive social change, but he’s put some very realistic roadblocks in the way of his youths and he seems to bitterly suggest that money gotten by any means is the only tool for success. Daughter Hennie gets pregnant and is too proud to involve the real father. The iron-willed mother Bessie arranges a marriage of convenience. Son Ralph is too poor to even hang onto a girl friend and seems far from enlightened enough to be an effective mover for any kind of change.
The resolution is a bit hollow as Hennie finally goes with the father of her child, a successful bookmaker and Ralph’s success comes from an unexpected insurance policy. Odets wraps things up, but he wants us to keep thinking and feeling. Again I was impressed with the sheer overall competence of the cast and sureness of the production. I especially enjoyed Alia Radman as the iron-willed family matriarch, Bessie, and Winston Fiore as the street wise WW I veteran Moe Axelrod.
Clifford Odetts’ "Waiting for Lefty" and "Awake and Sing" will be performed Friday and Saturday at seven-thirty and Sunday at two at the John Waldron Arts Center.