Oracle Theatre presents WAITING FOR LEFTY.
Playwright Clifford Odets premiered and set this play in 1935. It exposes the corruption of unions during the depression. At the focal point, one man struggles to feed his family with honor. External and internal forces push him to make hard decisions.
Under Director Matt Foss’ vision, the play takes on a surreal quality. Set Designer Eleanor Kahn splits the theatre in half. One wall is covered in old newspaper snippets. The other wall is a blank slate... literally. The ensemble arrives singing a melancholy tune and draws a city skyline on the wall. Each scene starts with someone writing the scene title on the chalkboard wall. The use of the chalkboard becomes a pivotal marker of the events leading to the climatic finish. Kahn impressively layers in special effects for a memorable conclusion.
Although there are only four characters, Foss utilizes a 10-member ensemble to tell the story. As Dylan Stuckey (Joe) and Stephanie Polt (Edna) argue over finances, other ensemble couplings subtly and silently mimic the same scenario in other corners of the theatre. The additional people adds depth to the reality of the time period and the surreality of the play. Since poverty was an epidemic affecting the masses, Foss uses multiple people on the fringe to showcase the commonality from house to house. In the center of the stage, Stuckey delivers a soulful performance. He is a man caught between his honor and his circumstances. A forceful Polt pushes him to do whatever it takes to feed their children. Polt terrifically rants with shrew desperation. While Stuckey’s face reflects her disappointment in him, he also has this other-worldly look, a dream-like state. A deft Stuckey endears with an optimism anchored in his own innocence.
A blustery Jeremy Clark (Fatt) delivers masterful, big boss orations. Chewing on a cigar, Clark dominates the room with double-talk power. Clark’s face offs with Stuckey are the Goliath and David variety. Although we always know to root for Stuckey, we fret about his ability to beat the big boss. Infrequently, a sinister-looking John Arthur Lewis (Heavy) arrives in the scene to reinforce authority. Foss keeps the action rolling for this tightly-packed, union expose. The last production, “The Mother” took on Russian workhouse corruption. WAITING FOR LEFTY is the American version.
I’ve seen every Oracle play since “The Castle” in Winter 2010. 11 shows! During the last 3 1/2 years, I’ve been impressed by the ambitious projects that Oracle produces, especially in a such tiny space and with limited resources. Oracle has become a ‘public access theatre.‘ Their performances are free of charge. Their intent is to bring theatre to everyone. And they even initiated an annual touring show to nursing homes. I love their work. I love their mission.
WAITING FOR LEFTY is a perfect opportunity to step into the Oracle experience. Not only is the show well-done, it’s short and free. It’s a no-risk opportunity to enmesh yourself in the Chicago Storefront Theatre scene.
Running Time: Fifty-five minutes with no intermission
At Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway
Written by Clifford Odets
Directed by Matt Foss
Fridays, Saturdays, Mondays at 8pm
Thru July 27th
Reserve Tickets at www.publicaccesstheatre.org