Shouting fills the theater. As the audience enters they’re encouraged to “sign in”; to the left, sheets of paper and pens sit near the entrance. Chairs fill the room, circling the low stage. Actors run around, full costume, addressing you as if you were a character in the play you’re about to watch.
The cast of Waiting for Lefty successfully executes the illusion; instead of being an audience member, you’re now an angry cab driver of the 1930s, seriously considering the possibility of a strike. The room quiets, waiting for Lefty Costello, their committee president, to arrive. Everyone in the theatre is now a cast member.
As you may know, Waiting for Lefty was written by Clifford Odets, first produced in 1935 during the Great Depression. A political piece, it borrows heavily from The Communist Manifesto, praising communism throughout. It chronicles a meeting of New York taxi drivers planning to strike, displaying their reasoning through different stories told by the cab drivers, acted out in episodes of their past. Within these scenes we see the bleak looking world of America in 1935.
The CCSU Theatre Department certainly does Odets justice with their production of Waiting for Lefty, generating a believable atmosphere and an overall successful representation of the stress caused by the economic struggles of the play’s time period.
The April 28 opening performance, free to the public, was not without its subtle flaws, such as Sid dropping a prop knife during his conversation with Florence, but those flaws were often overshadowed and forgotten due to the mostly excellent performances delivered by the young and talented cast.
RJ Negron, who displayed some of the strongest acting of the evening, played the part of Joe, quite possibly the most dominating character in the play. He pulled off a classic New York accent without making it cheesy or overbearing, and managed to create extremely realistic romantic energy between himself and Edna, played by actress Annie Capobianco. Capobianco displayed equal passion while describing the couple as the oppressed class, shouting with teary eyes "the world is supposed to be for all of us," grabbing attention like a magnet.
Michael Adolph Dichello also gave one of the highlighting performances of the evening, portraying the Character of Harry Fatt so well, that he was actually an intimidating presence. Every time Dichello used the word "red" it was like receiving a sharp jab. Alongside him was Ben McLaughlin as the Gunman, who completely embodied the violent force and questionable intelligence of the character, acting as an allegory to the period’s law enforcers.
The performance was marked by an invested director. Josh Perlstein, an associate professor of theatre at CCSU, showed us through Waiting for Lefty that CCSU has a very worthwhile Theatre Department. The vignette where Fayette and Miller argue the morality of producing poisonous gases for biological warfare was moving and powerful, capturing Miller’s symbolic step towards communism, as well as symbolically regaining his deceased brother by the scene's end.
Perlstein’s ability to navigate his actors towards these waters encourages the idea that even at a college with a little known theatre department, the stage can be used to sufficiently display heavy themes and major commentaries about society. We also saw him use certain creative liberties, like the inclusion of a hidden female cab driver dressed as a man, adding more political charge to the final scene based on the roles of gender during the play's setting.
The present day’s weak economy and financial crunch made this tale of the working class hit closer to home than other plays the department could’ve chosen. You don’t need to be an underprivileged cab driver of the 1930s to relate to the episodes of human injustice depicted in this play, you don’t need to be a communist to appreciate it. When Agate, played by Kyle Mencel yelled "we're reds because we wanna strike, then we take over their salute too," you almost wanted to stand and shout your own frustrations with our current economic situation.
Fortunately, due to a great cast, director, and fantastic costume design thanks to Lani Johnson, this production of Waiting for Lefty proves that the often times overlooked CCSU Theatre Department is one of the university’s true hidden gems. Keep your eyes open for future productions by the department.