Waiting For Lefty at Quintessence Theatre

“Waiting for Lefty” is a short play, consisting of seven scenes that revolve around a taxi driver’s strike that occurred in 1934. . Written a year later, playwright Clifford Odets has put together vignettes of the lives of those at that initial union meeting. Though the play is only an hour long, it is a powerful story of  families struggling to survive in the throes of the Depression. Sadly, the Quintessence production falls short in many ways.

            In 1935, with so many people starving or barely eking out a living, the Communist Party in America was trying to offer a viable alternative to what they saw as the wealthy elite living high off the backs of the workers.  And unionism was often associated with Communism.

We meet a woman, ready to leave her husband after their furniture has been repossessed for missing a payment, to return to an old boyfriend who is earning a decent living. We learn of another woman who will only keep her job is she spies on her boss. We see Irv who is telling his sister to leave the man she intends to marry because he doesn’t earn enough. We encounter Dr. Benjamin who is removed from the surgery he was to do on a woman in the charity ward because he has been replaced by an incompetent doctor who is related to a senator. (The woman dies, the hospital closes the charity ward, and the Jewish Dr. Benjamin is fired.)

At the union meeting, the union boss is still discouraging a strike. Is he connected to the racketeers that many feel are controlling the union? The drivers aren’t sure what to do. They are waiting for their trusted representative, Lefty to guide them.

It is obvious that he has the nickname, Lefty, because of his political affiliation., but no one ever mentions it. Others, who express sympathy for the poor, are just called Reds. It is a challenging time. But in spite of it all, I didn’t feel for the characters. They were either miscast, misdirected, or just not in touch with the people they are portraying.

In the first vignette at the meeting, many of the men were played by women who just didn’t pull it off. It was distracting. In the second vignette, the man was too young to be portraying a man who had fought in World War I, some 17 years earlier. But my biggest issue with most of the scenes was that characters were just talking fast and yelling. Their expressions of frustration were without  feeling, without angst. And worse, I missed about 20% of the dialogue in several scenes as the actors spit out their lines. I didn’t know what they were talking about.

Was it because I am just an old guy with hearing issues, I wondered? But at the end, I asked the three people sitting behind me if they had any issues hearing or understanding what was being said on the stage that is so very close. They each expressed the same problem I had, one saying “I didn’t know what was going on much of the time.”

When I got home, before I sat down to write the review, I called friends of mine who’d seen the show the night before. Same thing. I felt saddened by my inability to enjoy a play that was so important in its day. Perhaps, because it is early in the run, the situation will be corrected. I hope so.

“Waiting for Lefty” at Quintessence Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave., Phila, PA 19119, 215-987-4450. http://www.quintessencetheatre.org  Thru February 12, 2023.

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