Play by Rob Ackerman at the Working Theater
Feb 25, 2012
New York City is arguably home to the most vibrant, diverse, talented, and extensive theater productions in the world; a single one of its streets has become synonymous with live theater; theater lovers from all over the world flock to see the best of the best and tourists come to see the glitz, glamour, and over the top schlock that fuel Broadway’s commercial engine. But theater is becoming increasingly expensive and less and less accessible to lots of people. At $100+ per ticket plus transportation and a meal at a restaurant that usually accompany an afternoon or evening of theater it’s a pricey outing.
The Working Theater is a non-profit off-Broadway theater company whose mission is to make live theater productions affordable and relevant to everyday folks. Their charter states they believe “theater should not be a privilege or a luxury, but a staple” and mount productions at much more affordable prices, e.g., $25 per ticket. They also seek plays with culturally diverse stories that resonate with the lives of working people and address issues of interest and social importance (see review of Exit Cukoo). Themes dealing with the lives and struggles of ordinary people are not new of course and have certainly been part of contemporary American theater for years. Classics such as Death of a Salesman, Streetcar Named Desire, and recent works such as the Pitmen Painters and Jerusalem are successful and poignant portrayals of the lives of the working class. But access to Broadway productions of these plays is beyond the reach of many of the working people they depict.
So while the mission of The Working Theater is noble and well-intentioned, and their current production, entitled, Call Me Waldo , aims high, it unfortunately misses the mark artistically. The play deals with a two-income working class family on Long Island – Lee (Matthew Boston) the husband, is a talented but underappreciated electrician and his wife Sarah (Rita Rehn) a hospital nurse who is a bit bored with her life. The underlying theme of the play is looking beyond our constrained everyday lives for achievement of personal fulfillment. In search of his palpable but undefined missing link, Lee picks up the complete works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (he is apparently and conveniently a descendent of the American poet and philosopher) and begins to channel “Waldo’s” thoughts and outlook on life. His dramatic and seemingly bizarre outbursts get the attention of his boss Gus (Brian Dykstra) who shares his concerns with Sarah, who in turn seeks the guidance of the attending doctor (Jennifer Dorr White) she works with. Through a series of incidents each character has an opportunity to reinvent themselves by gaining better personal insight as a direct or indirect result of Waldo’s presence.
Rob Ackerman’s play was a bit heavy-handed and clichéd. Call Me Waldo is billed as “an outrageous new comedy” but is neither outrageous nor terribly funny. The actors did a credible job with what they had but there was little attention to detail; for example not one of the four actors spoke in anything that resembled a Long Island accent. Staging and sets were creative – they made good imaginative multi-purpose use of the materials, converting quickly from construction site to bed room to hospital, etc. In principle I strongly support The Working Theater – I just hope they can locate and produce higher quality plays to accomplish their mission to “bridge …divisions, expanding the reach of theater’s impact to all people, uniting us in our common humanity”