6/9/2019    WORKING                         Out of Box Theatre         

*****  ( A+ )  


(Bias Alert:  I have worked with Out of Box Theatre and will soon do so again.  I also have several friends in this cast and crew.  Needless to say, I tend to view their work through approval-tinted glasses, and this column will no doubt reflect that bias.)

Working is a musical that can honestly be described as "Alive."  Originally produced on Broadway in 1978, it ran for an anemic 24 performances, but is continuously being revised and restaged, with characters joining the team as others are retired.  Jobs far below the "common radar" in 1978 (Community Organizer, Tech Support) have been given new life and new significance.  And songs by new songwriters like Lin-Manuel Miranda have joined some of Stephen Schwartz's original score.  This play has a heartbeat, and workers are its life's blood.

Based  oral historian  Studs Terkel's 1974 book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, it is essentially a series of monologues and songs about what people do and why people do it, finding significance in the most mundane of jobs (stay-at-home Mom), and finding the mundane in what should be significant (Publicist).  It is, at root, about how we interact with the world through our careers and our day-to-day tasks, and concludes with a celebration of the basic human desire to leave something of ourselves behind, something "to point to" to prove to the universe that we really mattered.

In Out of Box's worker-friendly production, we enter what looks like a factory setting, with seats placed on either side of a long runway, a band at the far end, a Stage Manager in the booth loudly calling cues -- yes we see Theatre Workers as well, doing what they do, sharing their love of the show.

In Out of Box's worker-friendly production, we enter what looks like a factory setting, with seats placed on either side of a long runway, a band at the far end, a Stage Manager in the booth loudly calling cues -- yes we see Theatre Workers as well, doing what they do, sharing their love of the show.

As the band (Connor McMinn and Davis Peterson under Annie Cook's capable leadership) gets its first cue, the cast, (Andrew Anderson, Mala Bhattacharya, Hannah Chiclana, Brandon Deen, Lakytra Hamilton, Patrick Hill, Amy Levin, Mary Ruth Ralson, Kait Rivas, Dylan Parker Singletary, Lauren Tully, and Kevin Qian) proudly dressed in overalls and bandanas, sing about working "All the Livelong Day, letting us know right away that this show will be about us and what we do.  In quick sequence, we meet Mike (an Ironworker), Freddy (a Fast Food Worker, Amanda (a Project Manager), Rex (Amanda's Boss), and so on.  Jobs overlap -- a Senior Care Assistant and a Nanny have a beautiful Lin-Manuel Miranda duet; a Sex Worker and a Fundraiser find parallels in their tasks; a Teacher approaches a welcome retirement and a Retiree wrestles with loss of purpose; a Mason relishes the permanence of his work, a Publicist regrets the impermanence of his.  James Taylor's "Millwork" turns into a frenetic never-stopping textile assembly line filled with hidden danger and monotonous repetition, and a group of fourth-generation Cleaning Women draw a line in the floor wax -- "This stops with me!  My daughter will NOT be a Cleaning Woman!"

This marvelously talented cast of twelve brings over two dozen people and two dozen occupations to life, and, to a performer, they are excellent.  The balance between voice and orchestra is perfect, and the intimacy of the venue lends itself to (a few) interactions with the audience that all work well.  Monica Malone's choreography and Kristin Storla's direction keep the movements fluid, the large cast out of each others' way, and the stage pictures elegant.

And, lest we forget, the production also features the work of those "behind the scenes" -- Assistant Director Savannah Jones, Stage Manager / Sound Designer Sydney Tolbert, Set Designers Kristen Storla and Carolyn Choe, Lighting Designer Nina Gooch, Movement Choreographer Kristine Storla, Costumer Carolyn Choe, and Lighting and Sound Tech Sydney Tolbert.  ALL have a first-rate show to which they can (and should) point.  (Yes, some have multiple jobs, ALL jobs deserve individual shout-outs.)

As previously stated,  this is a play about workers, about how folks "abandon their dreams to follow their lives."  There are deep-rooted resonances in every monologue, every song, every character, even those (especially those) far removed from our own frames of reference.

For the record, because it is asked of us to consider, my worst job ever was cleaning offices in a facility with no central air in the summer of 1970 -- because some offices had window AC units, I'd work from extreme heat to extreme cold and ended up catching pneumonia two weeks after I started.  For the record, it did instill in me a lifelong disdain for dirty ashtrays and cleaning up after smokers.

I worked for the railroad (Conrail and Norfolk Southern) for 36 years before retiring, the fourth generation in  my family to do so.  I was a clerk, a keypunch operator, a jitney driver, a dispatcher, a supervisor, an analyst, and I spent the last ten years of my career making computer models and working toward my Six Sigma Green Belt (which I achieved a month before retirement).

What do I have to point to?  About two dozen loose leaf binders filled with nineteen years (almost two thousand) reviews of Atlanta's plays, a handful of videos of performances and lighting accomplishments, a daughter who shares (some of) my passions and has already proven herself braver than I (she landed an NYC job less than a week after getting there, I ran home from Los Angeles less than a week after arriving there).  Oh, and a significant share of the success of NS's "Heartland Corridor," which now allows double-stack trains to get from Norfolk VA to Chicago IL without going hundreds of miles "out of the way."

And now?  Now I get to witness and write about some of the best theatre in the country.  Sometimes I even get to help make it happen.  And that's my dream job, what I wanted to do since High School, and I can truly say I am now Working the Dream!

            -- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy    #OOBWorking)

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