Something captivating is happening in Hollywood about a half-block south of Santa Monica Boulevard on Orange Drive, almost midway back from the street along a nondescript business complex. It’s happening at the Art of Acting Studio, which until Saturday night had been unknown to me like so many of the scores upon scores of small theaters throughout greater Los Angeles that live so often under the radar hosting productions week in and week out.
Within the cozy theater on that sold-out night I was to see the Harold Clurman Laboratory Theater Company’s premiere staging of Clifford Odets’ landmark 1935 agit-prop drama “Waiting For Lefty,” directed by Don K. Williams. And what I saw was a brilliant embrace of a classic that was absolute magic.
Consisting of a series of vignettes threaded through the framework of meeting of cab drivers (with the title character being their absent and expected leader), Odets’ masterpiece is what launched the Group Theatre into the minds of the social conscience in the 1930s. “Waiting for Lefty” centers on union members meeting to discuss a possible strike while offering glimpses into their desperate lives as they search for a way out of poverty in a world where greed outweighs the value of human life and the only way to escape was to fight together.
Though written in the midst of the Great Depression, given the suffering of so many through the ongoing bleak economic conditions effecting the country today, “Waiting For Lefty” speaks just as clearly and powerfully and poignantly in building to its angry and defiant crescendo as it did to audiences more than three-quarters of a century ago.
It does so in this exquisitely staged production because it’s passionately delivered without restraint or reservation from every last committed member of the large ensemble cast (with a special nod to the entirely riveting Darren Keefe who holds nothing back in the role of Agate) — all of them no doubt skilfully guided by Williams’ adept direction and understanding of the enduring relevance of Odets’ creation.
In the program it states that the Harold Clurman Laboratory Theatre Company’s mission “is to produce theater committed to the standards and ideals set out by Stella Adler, Harold Clurman and the Group Theatre.” With “Waiting For Lefty” the company has completely and extraordinarily succeeded in that mission.
Where: Art of Acting Studio, 1017 North Orange Drive, Los Angeles, 90038
What: “Waiting For Lefty,” by Clifford Odets
When: Fridays & Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m., through October 8
Tickets: $15 (available in advance through Brown Paper Tickets)
Photo gallery info (from top left to bottom right): Jacque Freydont (left) and David Lengel; Dan Evans (left) and J. Claude Deering; Adam Bitterman; Jesse Steccato and Katharine Brandt; Chase Fein and Emily Jackson; (left to right) Dan Evans, Jesse Steccato, Darren Keefe, and David Lengel.