What central themes are present in Waiting for Lefty: Seeing Red?
The American Dream: Immigrants’ love affair with the American Dream. The expectation of gold on the pavements, jobs for everyone, success, fame and fortune for all who have a strong work ethic. Freedom to do all that an individual is capable of and to own a piece of America: the perfect white house, fancy cars and clothes and furniture. Immigrants dare dreams and risk of moving their families to America so that all of these American Dreams will come true. Even blind patriotism; the proud fighting for America and its ideals in World War I was part of the Dream. After World War I, the Roaring Twenties seduced Americans into the wild possibilities that money and freedom can bring, and then the Crash in 1929 followed. Unemployment rose and ripped through the dream: furniture and homes being repossessed, the men in power controlling the lives of the working class, no money for the basic needs of food and shelter. The working class was suddenly confronted with the loss of the grand illusion of freedom and the ownership of shiny objects.
Quote: “I’d heard of the American streets being paved with gold, but I didn’t know that I would have to pave them.”
Deconstruction of the American Dream: People feeling violently erased; humans trapped in containers of poverty, impossibility, and inequality. Individual’s lost pride (particularly men) and hope. The feeling of helplessness and inaction settled in, disillusionment and consequent disorientation. The grief at the loss of the Dream and the anger at the bosses for overpowering them overwhelmed the population.
Taking Action vs. Inertia: At first, everyone wants Lefty to take action for them—or their spouse or anyone but them. The need to make a difference, to take action becomes overwhelming to the individual. The call to action seems impossible to the individual, but becomes possible in the group, in the team, in the collective action to revolt against the system that is controlling them and their lives.
Men vs. Women: The men are the big dreamers—they are caught in an obsessive love affair with the American Dream. They are living in illusion, in the romance of the possibility of life which keeps them from taking action. They are the romantics, conjuring gorgeous verbal pictures of the romantic life they want to give to their mates. The women are more practical, though still passionate and yearning for the romantic life their men enrapture them to believe in. Ultimately, the women see the truth of the circumstance, and instill in the men the imagination towards revolution. They wake up their men to the realities of life in America, and reconnect them to the action hero hiding inside each of them. When Edna kisses Joe, she is putting a revolution I his mouth. Igniting the men through power and sexual imagination, the women help to birth both a romantic and political revolution.
Revolution: The need to create political change out of brutal necessity. The power of team; the play examines the fear that keeps a group silent and then words and events finally incite a revolution among them.
How we perceive: If we are addicted to an image of a way of life then we are plump for disillusionment. To be able to perceive what is real and true and then to take action is central to this play.
How has the incorporation of additional works by Clifford Odets affected the original context of Waiting for Lefty? And what is the reasoning behind choosing these specific additions?
Waiting for Lefty was Odets’ first produced play, and is essentially a one-act. Odets continued to write plays about the central themes of the individual vs. big bosses, the American Dream and the deconstruction of the American Dream, the passion and revolution of true love winning out over practical love, and revolution vs. inertia. I believe that he became a better playwright in his later plays—deepening his vision and more specifically articulating his particular, jazzy vernacular. I wanted to celebrate this later writing and also lengthen/deepen the audiences’ experience with Odets. I think the added scenes enhance the detailing of relationships between characters, and between the characters and the central themes. Waiting for Lefty is essentially a series of episodes of the domestic and business lives of the workers who are attending the Union Meetings. Being privy to the private and working lives of the characters makes them individual and specific, instead of the violent invisibility of the masses. I wanted more scenes like this, similar to the voyeurism in Hitchcock’s Rear Window, in which we get to eavesdrop on the private moments of the humans we meet on the streets. I wanted a fuller picture of life during the Depression and how that relates to us and our world now. Plus, there are some Odets scenes from other plays that I love so much and have a yearning to discover through rehearsal and performance.
In what ways does Waiting for Lefty: Seeing Red relate to a modern audience?
We are living in brutal, humiliating times that echo the Great Depression more than any other time in American history. We confront stock market crashes, war and violence, poverty and unemployment daily. We live in fear, anger, grief and loss of pride. We struggle with the feeling of helplessness and inertia. And because we are human beings, we dream and imagine. Sometimes we lose what we never had because we imagine. And sometimes, under dire circumstances, we imagine a way to create revolution—revolving the circumstances into a new field of possibility and hope, into a new way of being, as Americans and humans.
What questions, thoughts, and ideas would you like an audience member to leave with?
What is our path to revolution now? It cannot be exactly the same as in the time of the Depression. I want the audience to leave with a shift in perception. Through compassion and recognition, begin to perceive the truth, the reality, of our circumstances and to understand that it is up to each individual to choose to take action.
Revolution, true revolution, implies experimenting with the impossible. When an individual takes a step in the direction of the new, the whole human race travels through that individual. At the same time, to find comrades, collaborators, teams that will surge with you to the other side of inertia.
Can the American Dream redefine itself to include compassion, empathy, true equality, deep listening and collaboration? What can be our America Dream now? How can each of us make a difference, particularly in our day to day encounters in which we can choose to treat people and events with curiosity, open hearts and equality? In this time of glorious technology, how do we become more human instead of less? How do we fuel our actions with hopeful possibility and stay grounded in the truth of our circumstances?
Waiting for Lefty runs through October 16th.. Click here to buy tickets!