The best thing about the thirties is that they are over, and we can enjoy them. Waiting for Lefty is not much over twenty years old, but already it appears naive, not to say puerile; its melodramatic politics, so characteristic of the time (coarse, pravdaically fiendish big-business villains and oppressed but upright working-class heroes) is as dated as its slang. The "Solidarity Forever" day of leftist-labor idealism are over; people who were part of them seldom like to talk about them, even before Congressional committees. In 1959 Clifford Odets' play about striking taxi drivers deserves attention largely as an amusing, nostalgic period piece.
Fortunately, nobody seems to have communicated all this to the personnel of the current HDC Workshop production. They play Lefty with great conviction, and for all its silliness and narrowness, for all the rigidity of its economic determinism, they prove that the old script has considerable power. Nobody nowadays seems to give a very passionate damn about the poor and downtrodden, including perhaps Mr. Odets, but he did then, and these actors spill out their guts on his behalf in rousing fashion.
In its time, Lefty was as notable for its formal audacity as for its rabble-rousing radicalism; nowadays we are almost used to seeing more actors in the auditorium than on the stage, but Mr. Odets exploited his gimmick skillfully, and it still works. The stage at Agassiz represents the speakers' platform at a union hall, and the audience are supposed to be taxi drivers at a strike meeting. The house is infiltrated with agents provocateurs, carefully drilled by Mark Mirsky to keep up a running fire of grumbles, taunts, and shouts, and to bring the audience into the play by putting the play almost into their laps; it is still an exciting moment when the slob sitting next to you in the leather jacket turns out to be a major character.
Mr. Mirsky himself acts as leader for these raucous rhapsodes, and they keep the emotional pitch at a consistently high level. The play is not a continuing story, but a melange of speeches, scuffles, and flashbacks; Mr. Mirsky's direction keeps it together, keeps it moving, keeps it loud and furious as it should be.
William Kelley as Agate, who leads the strike call at the end, goes ape more extravagantly than any of the others, but every grin and every sob is controlled and effective. Mr. Kelley is excellent, and Ronald Coralian, Richard Dozier, Betsy Bartholet, and Harvey White also do good work. James Matisoff, Mikel Lambert, and Robert Gamble also give satisfactory performances according to their lights, but all three seemed to me miscast.
Ideally, the end of Lefty should have the whole audience on its feet, all selfconsciousness gone, bawling "Strike! Strike!" along with the actors. This did not happen at Agassiz; perhaps it will never happen any more, but some of us will miss the spirit that made it possible. But Mr. Mirsky and his actors have caught this spirit in a performance far above ordinary Workshop standards.