Total Rating: 
May 7, 2017
Lookingglass Theater Company
Theater Type: 
Water Works
Theater Address: 
821 North Michigan Avenue
Alexander Zeldin

If you think scrubbing out your own bathroom and kitchen is a chore, imagine applying your janitoral skills to the residue of a meat-processing plant. Would you rather be paid less than $50 a day for picking up spilled ramen noodles from the floor of the staff break-room with bare hands, or for swabbing disinfectant on bloody machines littered with scraps of raw animal flesh?

In the United States, the term "temporary worker" brings to mind bright-eyed post-graduates toiling as low-level clerics in corporate offices, but in the industrial sector, that label's analogy is to what was called, in other times, "day labor" — men and women hired under contracts promising, but not guaranteeing, fixed wages or hours. Falling within the category of indoor service providers are the four representatives of this economic demographic whom we meet as they report for sanitation duty at the aforementioned facility.

Beyond Caring playwright Alexander Zeldin is not interested in muckraking propaganda like “The Jungle” nor sentimental sensationalism in the style of The Lower Depths, but instead employs a narrative technique more akin to that of the documentary films of Frederick Wiseman and the drama verité of David Storey, its unstructured spartan presentation inviting us to register our outrage where we find it — or not. Its progress encompasses no shocking revelations, no visceral thrills, no comforting solutions—a brief tantrum is muffled by music from a boom box, a likewise brief moment of covert sex approximating woman-on-man rape is initiated and consummated without a word spoken, a victim of rheumatoid arthritis suffers a spell of helpless immobility.

Angry Tracy is denied a day off to visit her son, meek Sonia is ejected when she attempts to spend the night on-site, affable Ebony-Grace's disability restrictions are ignored by the shift supervisor (who also must cope with the demands of his own bosses).

It can be argued, quite rightly, that somebody has to perform these unpleasant tasks — wastebaskets don't empty themselves, after all, nor is restroom paper restocked by elvish magic. Where opinions differ, however, is in determining the extent of the recognition deserved by those whose livelihood is dependent on such drudgery. If the takeaway of audiences, after 90 intermissionless minutes of dialogue stripped bare of actorly flourish, is a heightened awareness of, and empathy for, a segment of our society until recently nearly invisible, Zeldin and the Lookingglass Theater Company will have accomplished their reformist goals.

This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 4/17
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
April 2017