Call to strike: Ivy Tech production packs a punch

By Doris Lynch H-T Reviewer
April 17, 2012

Under Paul Daily’s fine direction, this first production by Ivy Tech Community College, “Waiting for Lefty,” energetically presented a classic from the 1930s, a time period that shares many similarities with our own. In short but powerful vignettes, 14 (mostly young) actors offered strong performances of workers debating the pros and cons of a strike. Also included were stories of a doctor and a chemist fighting against an unfair system, and risking their livelihoods in the process.

Setting the mood, the ushers wore knickers, suspenders, old-fashioned dress shirts and caps. Nathaniel Alcock (Fayette) played banjo and harmonica while belting out Woody Guthrie and other Depression-era folk songs.

The playwright Odets designed the clever staging: actors stationed among audience members, where they shouted out opinions, disputes, ayes and nays. Dismantling the fourth wall worked well by involving the audience and inspiring the actors to really feel their roles.

Somewhat disorienting was the beginning, in which there was no clear demarcation between when the play officially started and when characters finished greeting each other at a union meeting.

Ian Martin (Fatt), with his booming voice and commanding presence, made anti-strike Fatt a believable and intimidating foe of the pro-strike contingent.

As Agate Keller, Jacob Duffy Halbleib was particularly memorable, using his body to express urgency and to rally the taxi drivers to vote for the strike.

Saturday night, several actors’ dialogue seemed rushed, but everyone delivered their lines with strong feeling. Daily’s direction placed several characters almost in each other’s faces, close enough to spit their arguments at each other.

In fact, this yelling and tension led to some fist pummeling. Two fight scenes were executed efficiently and dramatically under Adam Nobel’s fight choreography.

Two particularly moving vignettes involved family scenes. In the first Edna (Patricia Rochell) passionately presses her husband, Joe, (played forcibly by Ian Ketcham) to fight for the union because the 5 bucks a week he’s making now will soon become only $3. And their two children already suffer from rickets from lack of milk.

A welcome romantic interlude between Florence (Cara Thompson) and Sid (Nick Johnson) makes upfront and personal Odets’ message that poor pay hurts everyone. Thompson’s Florence shows a caring, strong woman. As Sid, Johnson displays a tender kindness and an almost repressed longing. Their love becomes palpable in a dance scene. Heartbreakingly, both are smart enough to realize that a marriage between them won’t work unless they can earn a living wage.

John Whikehart played a conflicted Barnes, a doctor who emphasized that medical care was not under the control of doctors. He tries to persuade young, idealistic Dr. Benjamin (David Chervony) that he needs to compromise to survive in the working world, but Benjamin rebuffs him.

Barbara Abbott’s costumes captured the ’30s street urchin look and businessman attire of that era including skinny, polka-dotted ties and a pork-pie hat.

Shane Cinal transformed the Waldron’s Rose Firebay into a palette of light and dark grays: bricks, an American flag, and a Transportation Union insignia completed the wall decor.

Ivy Tech’s rendition of “Lefty” was stirring as people all around you — even next to you — demanded a strike or urged caution. These actors — some of them first-timers — gave fine performances. For political theater with punch and relevance, go see this show.

If you go

WHO: Ivy Tech Community College.

WHAT: “Waiting for Lefty,” a play by Clifford Odets.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday. WHERE: Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center’s Rose Firebay, 122 S. Walnut St., Bloomington.

TICKETS: $15 general admission and $5 for students/seniors; available at the Buskirk-Chumley box office at 114 E. Kirkwood Ave., 812-323-3020, or by visiting

Copyright: 2012

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.