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2002-2017: Now in Year #14 of our Kamikaze Journey!
Subversive Theatre: Where pissing you off is only the beginning

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  "New art work should shoot bullets."

-Clifford Odets
Click below for more info...
-- About the Author
-- About the Cast
-- About the Crew
-- About this Play's Production History
-- Publicity Photos
-- Production Photos
-- Return to the WAITING FOR LEFTY Mainpage
-- Buffalo News Preview: 1/11/08
-- Review: Artvoice Magazine
-- Review: Buffalo News
-- Review: Nightlife Magazine
-- Review: Online Buffalo
-- Historical Notes: the Labor Movement in 1935

Production History of


     WAITING FOR LEFTY was the second play the then 28-year-old Clifford Odets had ever written (he had completed AWAKE AND SING a few months before), but it was his first to ever be performed.  He wrote the play in just three days in 1934 basing it very directly on an actual New York City cabdrivers' strike that had taken place earlier that same year.
     America was in the depths of the Great Depression.  One in every four workers was unemployed.  Those who were lucky enough to be employed eeked by on meager pay.  1934 was filled with some of the most harrowing Labor struggles America had ever known up to that time. That year, strikes exploded into violent clashes with the Police, the National Guard, and even the Army in Minneapolis, San Francisco, Honea Path, South Carolina, and Woonsocket, Rhode Island, with many killed on both sides.
     The struggle for the rights of Labor was the central issue of the day and WAITING FOR LEFTY was very consciously written to speak to this issue in a way that no play had ever done before.

     WAITING FOR LEFTY made its world debut on January 5, 1935 as a one-night-only performance at the Civic Repertory Theatre on Fourteenth Street.  The event was presented by the notoriously daring Group Theatre (of which Odets had been a member since 1931) as a fund-raiser for the New Theater Magazine.  The play was directed by Sanford Meisner with a cast that featured now legendary names like Lee J. Cobb (who went on to star in such films as ON THE WATERFRONT and TWELVE ANGRY MEN) and Elia Kazan (Director of films like ON THE WATERFRONT, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and A FACE IN THE CROWD), as well as Odets himself.
     Odets, Cobb, and Kazan -- all three of whom were members of the Communist Party at that time -- delivered many of the play's most radical speeches (ironically, all three of these men would later renounce their radical pasts and name names for the House on Un-American Activities Committee).
     The audience was immediately entranced by WAITING FOR LEFTY.  Group Theatre member Harold Clurman would later write that within minutes of the curtain going up on the play's opening scene: “Line after line brought applause, whistles, bravos, and heartfelt shouts of kinship.”  
     Odets himself recalled: “You saw for the first time theatre as a cultural force.  There was such an at-oneness with audience and actors that the actors didn’t know whether they were acting and the audience didn’t know whether they were sitting and watching it, or had changed positions.” He continued, “I found myself up on my feet shouting ‘Bravo!’ . . . I forgot I wrote the play, forgot I was in the play. . . . The proscenium arch disappeared.”
Kazan, after a career in which he directed several of Broadway's greatest triumphs (such as A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, and THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH, to name only a few), would look back on that first performance of WAITING FOR LEFTY and say: “It was the most overwhelming reception I’ve ever heard in the theatre.”
When the play was over, the audience went wild.  Applause lasted for a record-breaking twenty-eight curtain calls.  Working class members of the audience stormed on to the stage overjoyed.  They hoisted Odets up on their shoulders and spent almost a full hour cheering, chanting, and celebrating.  Members of the Longshoreman's Union in attendance spontaneously declared themselves on strike -- no specific demands, no plan of action, just an outright celebration of workers' power!

     After such a jubilant reception, the Group Theatre was quick to arrange for a full production of WAITING FOR LEFTY which opened -- with cast and crew unchanged -- at the Longacre Theatre (named for its location on Longacre Square, which was soon to be renamed "Times Square") on March 26, 1935 and ran for four months.  It was remounted at the Belasco Theatre in September.
     This production was extraordinarily successful drawing the attention of newspapers, magazines, labor activists, politicians, and working people everywhere.  Still just 28 years old, Clifford Odets enjoyed a meteoric rise to national prominence.  Time Magazine placed his picture on the cover.  The New Yorker Magazine dubbed him: "Revolution's No. 1 Boy."

     WAITING FOR LEFTY was soon being performed by theaters across the Country.  The Communist Party organized an all-Black rendition of the play in Harlem in 1936.  Unions and pro-Labor organizations routinely held performances and staged readings of the play as part of Labor-related events and strike-support activity.
     As Odets put it, the play quickly became “a kind of light machine gun that you wheeled in to use whenever there was any kind of strike trouble.”
Throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, WAITING FOR LEFTY was one of the most produced plays in America.

     Today, WAITING FOR LEFTY is respected as one of the defining works of its Era and its original production is seen as one of the critical moments in the development of Realism in the American Theatre.  The play is remembered in the same breath as masterpieces like THE GRAPES OF WRATH as an incomparable artistic testament to the plight of the Great Depression and the struggles of working people everywhere.
     For any artist who wishes to speak out on the issues of their day, WAITING FOR LEFTY stands out as a powerful beacon of what is possible -- the standard by which all other political theatre must measure itself.
     We at Subversive Theatre are proud to do our small part to help keep this play's revolutionary tradition alive and well on into the Twenty-First Century!

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