Open: 10/04/12- Close: 10/21/12
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Minda Larsen
The Living Theater, on Clinton Street in the Lower East Side is an ideal venue for the ReGroup Theater Company’s revival of 1931-, the gritty tale of one man’s plight during the Great Depression Era. The Regroup Theatre Company was created in 2010 with the mission to produce "great plays" as defined by the Group Theatre as plays which are "propaganda for a better life”. After an 80-year absence from the stage, it is no wonder that this group chose to revive Claire & Paul Sifton’s play, 1931-. Its ties to modern day are striking. Indeed, it is a marvel that the text had not been changed at all, so relevant were the issues at hand; namely the issue of unemployment. It is impossible for one to sit through this play and not be struck by the striking similarities to modern day.
1931- follows the plight of Adam, a factory worker fired from his job. Proud and determined, Adam sets out to find another job, only to discover hundreds of other men in the same situation. Without a paycheck, Adam soon realizes how much he has to lose: health, dignity, hope, and possibly even the young shop girl he loves.
Stephen Dexter plays Adam with an iron steel and determination. His Adam possesses humanity and a universal appeal; containing exactly the playwrights’ intention. Indeed, we do all see a bit of ourselves in Adam’s struggle. Adam is transformed from a hard-working ambitious young man to a homeless, animal-like sub-human. His moments alone on stage are some of the most riveting in the play.
His love interest is played by Kelsey Moore, who certainly looks the part of the 1930’s shop girl. Kelsey's performance was a bit in and out, however, sometimes charming and connected, and other times a bit removed. Her reactions to Adam’s deteriorated condition (the newspaper wrapped around his feet, his bloody knees and torn clothing) were missing and one doubted the relationship. Why would a girl like her find anything appealing in a man reduced to shambles like Adam? What causes her to stay with this man? These questions, though present, were not fully explored.
From early on in the play, the relationship between Adam and his girl was never totally established and thus lacked audience investment. Unfortunately, the initial scene between the two was interrupted by other characters crossing the stage on roller skates and the audience was distracted from the get-go.
This lack of character development was due mainly to the concept of the show in general, and less with the actual actors. The play was staged in epic, cinematic pictures; a scene on a park bench between the couple, followed by a scene of men begging for work. This “in and out” concept; flashing from one scene to the next, is ideal for film, but didn’t quite work in this production, mainly due to the constant shifting and moving of props. While the dragging of crates and trunks did suggest the daily struggle of the men on the streets, the props appeared cumbersome and the scene changes often seemed irrelevant and distracting. A timelier scene transition would have greatly helped the pacing of the show.
That being said, the company did a very impressive job at remembering the scenes: what went where and when, and who was who. This was no easy task, and required a hands-on effort from the entire company. The various characters presented by the company were, for the most part, effective and genuine. Ave M. Lindon did an exceptional job at presenting characters that were dimensional and varied. Still, I wanted more development from the characters. One of the most poignant scenes was between Adam and an old friend, whom Adam asks for money. More of these moments with less on-stage distractions would have served the production well.
It is worth noting that the ReGroup Theater Company has taken a remarkable risk with this production and brings many relevant, thought-provoking issues to the forefront. The audience is inclined to struggle and dream with Adam and his soliloquy at the end of the play was deeply personal and touching. Though not without flaw, 1931-‘s historical depiction of the Great Depression and it’s and modern day relevance is captivating. Indeed, 1931- forces us to ask questions about our own human plight and struggles; exactly, I think, what the ReGroup Theater Company strives to achieve.
The Living Theatre : 21 Clinton Street