Waiting for Lefty | Performing Arts Sidebar | Chicago Reader

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Waiting for Lefty

American Blues Theater revives Clifford Odets's 1935 one-act


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I listened to Barack Obama's jobs speech on my way to see American Blues Theater's Waiting for Lefty. American blues, indeed. Clifford Odets's fiery 1935 one-act supplied an almost creepily apt counterpoint to the President's address. The play starts out at a union hall where cabbies are debating the pros and cons of calling a strike. A commie-baiting, cigar-chomping union honcho is there to explain why this is a politically bad moment to walk out—and lean on troublemakers if persuasion doesn't work. But the rank and file explain back that they're bleeding to death. The rest of the hour-long piece alternates between the meeting and wide-ranging vignettes about working life in Depression-era America. A wife goads her husband to man up and get better wages. A doctor is fired because she's Jewish. A chemist has a most surprising response when her boss asks her to inform against a colleague. In the most powerful scene, a young couple break up because they just can't afford to get married. Most of it—no, all of it—is pure propaganda. And red progaganda, at that, in the starry-eyed, let's-all-sing-"The Internationale" manner that was possible when Stalin looked good next to Hitler. But Kimberly Senior's staging and cast are strong, and there's a hell of a lot of satisfaction in watching workers hold up their fists and give a loud no, like they only seem to do in Wisconsin these days.

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