Review: (It's Been 76 Years and We're) Still Waiting for Lefty, Hollywood Fringe

 

RATING: ★★★★

In 1935, Clifford Odets's "Waiting for Lefty" premiered in New York City. Odets's first play to be produced, it was a response to the New York Taxi Driver Strike of 1934 in the form of a series of vignettes highlighting issues and experiences related to the strike. The play was popular with audiences, even garnering a West End production the following year. But, as "(It's Been 76 Years and We're) Still Waiting for Lefty" questions, "Do you think this play inspired any change or are we all still waiting?" 

Gregory Crafts's play is a response to "Waiting for Lefty" and an exploration of the modern issues facing American society today. Now playing at the Hollywood Fringe, it utilizes the same format of vignettes that Odets did to showcase a range of characters and problems. Written by Crafts, the show is based on a concept by Richard Piatt, who also directs. It also contains original music by Michael Teoli and poetry by Wade F. Wilson in between scenes. 

"Still Waiting for Lefty" opens with someone filming a YouTube video with a ring light. As he talks about  "Waiting for Lefty," other performers go through movement on the main part of the stage. It's a great introduction to the play for anyone unfamiliar with it and a clever way to make sure the audience understands what this play is inspired by. (I personally had heard of it, but have never seen it performed.) The video supposedly being made can be watched on YouTube

The scenes address many of the major problems that we face today in America: racism, corruption, exploitation of workers, COVID-19, and political strife. The first two vignettes were my personal favorites. In the first, Jose (Joe Luis Cedillo) is an Amazon driver who is frustrated with his poor treatment at work. He tells his wife, Edna (Leesette Gloria Medina), of the way that he cannot do anything while driving without being penalized, even changing the radio station.


However, she cannot understand his problems as she has her own concerns: having been let go from her job and caring for their young daughter. She's more focused on the fear that he will lose his job and they will no longer have health insurance. When he talks about joining with his coworkers who are trying to unionize, she tells him he needs to just do better at his job.  

Obviously, the treatment of Amazon employees has been a hot topic over the past few months, but this is also an interesting look at the issues that workers face when they are caught between the desire to try to improve their working conditions and the pressure placed on them by their family to ensure that they don't lose their work. In an economy where decent jobs with good pay and benefits is hard to find, this scene shows what a difficult situation that puts workers in. 

The second scene, centered around a pair of siblings who have been estranged due to their political beliefs, was a lot more familiar to me. I'm lucky not to have experienced this, but I have friends who are at odds with their family for similar issues. Ashley (Courtney Sara Bell) doesn't want to see her brother Will (Michael J. Lutheran) who is visiting, despite her fiancĂ© Lana (Leah Verrill) encouraging her. She hasn't spoken to him since he voted for Trump a second time, so he's surprised to find out that she's met someone and gotten engaged during quarantine. 

When Lana invites him to their apartment, a confrontation breaks out between Ashley and Will. Despite reminiscing about their childhood together, they cannot see eye to eye. He wishes that she would understand that he voted for Trump "because of the economy," but she cannot reconcile that with her identity as a gay woman. 


Lana is also very concerned about coronavirus and her discussion of variants and conspiracy theories feels very up-to-date. Both this worry about the virus and the conflict over one family member insisting that politics aren't personal, while the other person's rights are at stake are sadly major parts of our lives today. 

You can go see "Still Waiting for Lefty" in person at the Hollywood Fringe or you can watch it online. The virtual stream isn't perfect, or as well shot as some of the more formal livestream theatre (like the National Theatre Lives), but it's plenty decent to be able to see the show. There were a couple of moments when it was difficult to hear something, but that's understandable given the format.

Craft's writing creates believable, but snappy dialogue while the performances find empathy for the characters. If the conflicts can sometimes feel like one person is very obviously in the right and the other in the wrong, that says more about the state of our country than the writing. Bell's performance as Ashley was the standout for me, as she perfectly brought to life her internal conflict. 


You can find more information and buy in-person or virtual tickets here. The show has performances on August 20 and August 25. 

Photo Credit: Matt Kamimura 

I was given a press ticket to this show for the purposes of review, but all opinions are my own. 

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