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February 4, 2010

School of Drama has staged readings of two Depression-era plays

The UW School of Drama is offering a play reading series dubbed “Looking Up at Down” as part of the Great Depression in Washington State project. The series includes two iconic American plays from the Great Depression — Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets, and End of Summer by S.N. Behrman. These staged readings will be presented at the Jones Playhouse beginning with Waiting for Lefty Feb. 18-21, followed by End of Summer Feb. 25-28. Directed by UW Drama School faculty members Andrew Tsao and Mark Jenkins, both plays will feature members of the Professional Actor Theatre Program.

Both Waiting for Lefty and End of Summer follow the lives of people who were deeply affected by the economic crisis in America during the 1930s. In Waiting for Lefty, imaginatively conceived episodes weave together to tell the tragic tale of the working-class struggle for respectful treatment in the workplace. Structured around a taxi union organizing a strike, each episode focuses on places where the working class is hit hard — trouble with debt, livelihood, marriages, friendship, and duplicity. Despite these lessons, the union members join in a moving stand for their rights.


Taking a look at the upper-middle class, End of Summer chronicles a well-off woman, Leonie, who is forced to realize that the old order has been displaced by a new era. When her daughter wishes to marry a young radical, her estranged husband finally requests divorce, and her lover reveals infidelity, Leonie learns that wealth can’t provide happiness. S.N. Behrman’s play was described by New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson as “. . . (a) comedy of inherited wealth under fire.”


Together, the two plays present a spectrum of the Marxist idea that “economic relationships determine all other relationships.”


The Looking Up at Down reading series was conceived as a response to the current economic crisis facing America. UW Drama has joined forces with the UW Department of History, Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies and Simpson Center for the Humanities to bring these historic plays to life and inspire discussion of issues that seem to be repeating themselves. In the spirit of learning from the past, an opening night panel discussion of arts, politics, theater, and reform during the Great Depression will take place Thursday Feb. 18 at 7:30, prior to the start of the reading at the Jones Playhouse.


Tickets are $6 for all shows. Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Arts Ticket Office, 4001 University Way NE, 206-543-4880, or online.