COURTESY MANOA VALLEY THEATRE
Josh Harris, left, and Will Layden play construction workers building the framework of a new structure in Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "Working."
Talented cast brings workers to life
Think "Workin' for a Livin'" and "9 To 5." Think "She Works Hard for the Money," "Working in the Coal Mine" and "Sixteen Tons," and maybe "Take This Job and Shove It," as well. Those familiar songs aren't part of the score of "Working," the final show of the season at Manoa Valley Theatre, but they express the sentiments that percolate through this musical salute to the workers of America.
On stage: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. Sunday, through July 12
Place: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2688 E. Manoa Road
Tickets: $30; $25 seniors and military; $15 age 25 and younger
Call: 988-6131 or visit manoavalleytheatre.com
"Working," which in its original form dates from 1978, consists of monologues taken from Studs Terkel's book of the same name, and song lyrics are based on the same material. With neither a narrative thread nor any interaction between the characters, "Working" lacks some components of conventional theater, but characters are interesting nonetheless.
Some enjoy their work: a mason who takes such pride in working with "stone" that the workday ends too soon; a waitress who elevates the act of serving food to choreographed art; a check-out clerk who seems to approach her work with a similar attitude.
We meet a UPS man who explains how he adds excitement to the task of delivering packages, and a prostitute who seems satisfied with her choice of profession.
Others slog through the daily grind for lack of better options. One woman describes the mind-numbing but dangerous tedium she endures on an assembly line. Another identifies herself as a third-generation cleaning woman, and hopes that her daughter will find a way to break the cycle.
And there's a retiree, Joe, a widower who has few interests other than watching buildings burn. In him we glimpse the horror of a life that consists of little more than waiting to die.
Although many of the characters have names, others remain anonymous.
Director-choreographer Brad Powell has assembled a talented ensemble cast. Several performers stand out:
» Jim Tharp delivers convincing well-rounded character studies as the mason and the retiree.
» Ahnya Chang is a show-stopper as the star of "It's an Art (the Waitress)," one of the most elaborate song-and-dance numbers.
» D. Omar Williams, last seen on the local stage playing a stereotypically flamboyant "queen" in The Actors Group's "Romance," displays his range as an actor and power as a vocalist with "Lovin' Al," about a parking lot valet with an eye for women.
» Karen Valasek negotiates a kaleidoscope of emotions in "Nobody Tells Me How," a segment in which Rose Hoffman expresses her frustration with the changes that have taken place since she began a long career as a teacher. Back then, she says, students were respectful, and those who couldn't speak English fluently made learning the language a priority. Although some of Rose's comments about ethnic groups grate a bit, Valasek's performance ensures that she remains on the whole a sympathetic character.
Ensemble work, and Powell's skill as a choreographer, are the key ingredients in the success of numbers that portray the experiences of cashiers, people who work in cubicles, and those whose jobs involve making or receiving telephone calls.
Janine Myers (lighting) uses light to create the impression of big wheels turning in a number about the nomadic lives of long-haul truckers, and musical director Ernest Taniguchi shares credit with cast member Swaine Kaui for making "Un Mejor Dia Vendora," a nod to the experiences of Hispanic migrant workers, one of the musical highlights of Act I.
The structure of the show does make it possible to change the order of the songs and to add new ones, but the Spanish song is one of the originals -- not something added in the interests of immediacy or political correctness.
Topical add-ons aren't needed here. The honest emotions and real-life humanity of these American working people suffice to make "Working" memorable contemporary theater.