Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of WAITING FOR LEFTY and SEVERANCE at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT)
It seems in view of our current political climate, theatre’s muscle is mightier than ever. Whether it draws from myriad classics or bursts forth from a shiny new ballpoint (or rather, the keys of a computer, let’s be realistic) we can make a statement about our social, cultural, economic, and historical times through kinetic action on the boards. Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT), the producing arm of the University of Connecticut’s (UCONN) Department of Dramatic Arts, has successfully done just that – and they’ve paired old with new – Clifford Odets’ 1935 Waiting for Lefty followed by a “curtain closer,” a brand new play by 2015 UCONN alum Levi Alpert titled Severance. And one of my personal favorite things about attending CRT is that it pairs its students with Equity professionals who learn and perform alongside one another – it always is an exciting and gratifying experience.
Juxtaposing the two works, a 1930s Depression-era taxicab worker strike against modern-day corporate greed, Waiting for Lefty and Severance both are brilliantly acted and tightly directed. Michael Bradford, new Artistic Director of CRT, begins his directing foray at the dynamic Storrs theatre with this well-nuanced duet.
In each production, the characters have choices – and in neither are those choices easy ones to make. Presented in a series of vignettes, totally immersive with colorful characters planted throughout the audience, Waiting for Lefty introduces a union of cab drivers who are pondering whether to go on strike. No one is happy, everyone is struggling, work conditions are awful, and employers are unfair, but many are concerned about what ultimately will happen if they do strike.
It is not only the cab drivers who feel discontented in their employment, nor are they the only ones with decisions to consider. Families are affected and the cultural, political, and economic climate of the day also wreaks havoc on other industries including scientific research and the medical profession. Additionally, Waiting for Lefty addresses such matters as fair wages, chemical warfare, communism, family, relationships, and poverty.
In Severance, a modern-day tech corporation is making changes, at both ends the food chain. No one’s job is safe and no one may be trusted; but the challenges faced by those at the top pale in comparison to those at the bottom. The high-ranking CEO departs with enough of a wad to live on for life while the lowly factory worker can ill-afford a meal from a fast food dollar menu. There is a vibrant, vigorous, and rather distinctive method to the storytelling in Severance which also adds to the potent delivery of its message, namely through the well-choreographed actions and dialogue of the corporate board members.
In both productions, the passionate fervor of the dialog and movement draws in a spellbound audience, and one is hard-pressed not only to see the relevance to today’s challenging times but also the parallels in both stories. The remarkable troupe of actors brings the characters to life and as always it blows my mind that most of them are UCONN’s acting students. Their gifts are so readily apparent, they perform like seasoned professionals, which is both a testament to their own individual talents as well as to the dramatic arts program at UCONN.
Kudos to the incredible cast of Waiting for Lefty, many of whom we’ve enjoyed in past productions: Michael Lewis as Fatt, Michael Bobenhausen as Joe, Natalia Cuevas as Edna, Darren Lee Brown as Miller, Aidan Marchetti as Fayette, Ryan Shea as Irv, Meredith Saran as Florence, Jeff DeSisto as Sid, Jacob Harris Wright as Clayton, Gavin McNicholl as A Voice, Ben Senkowski as Agate Keller, Curtis Longfellow as Henchman, Robin Haynes as Dr. Barnes, Emile Saba as Dr. Benjamin, and Derrick Holmes as A Man. Same to the smashing cast of Severance (many of whom we’ve also seen): Longfellow as Hugh Mays, Lily Ling as Shelly Adams, Scott Redmond as Grover C. Alexander, Shavana Clarke as Jackie, Sam Kebede as Al; and Mikaila Baca-Dorion, Holmes, McNicholl, Saran, and Wright as The Board.
To note: Robin Haynes is an Equity professional who has appeared on Broadway (Blood Brothers, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) as well as national tours, regional theatre, film, and television. Michael Lewis also is an Equity performer who has worked in NYC venues and regional theatre, as well as television and film.
Of course what also makes a production like this a success is the work by its crew and production staff. Shout-outs to Brett Calvo for innovative scenic/projections design; Margaret Peebles for lighting design; Abigail Golec for sound design; Brighid DeAngelis for costume design; John W. Parmelee for technical direction; David Alan Stern for voice and text coaching; Tom Kosis for stage management; Marie Percy for movement coaching. Thanks to Pat McCorkle of McCorkle Casting, Ltd. and Dramaturg Elizabeth Mangan.
Finally, thank you to CRT and its incredible cast and crew for using the vehicle of theatre to showcase socially relevant issues in an exceptionally entertaining and highly professional fashion.