The experiences of blue-collar white ethnics have seldom been dramatized with as much wit, compassion, intelligence, or just plain performing talent as they were in Richard Hoehler's one-person show at the Mint space. The show is structured around seven vignettes in which Hoehler embodies a different character, each with a unique angle on what it means to work for a living, nurture hope for the future, make peace with the past, and simultaneously find dignity in the present.
The opening segment was the flat-out funniest. Entitled "Better Never Than Late," it featured Hoehler as a chronically tardy employee being upbraided by his boss (the voice of Tercio Bretas). His endless dissembling and prevarication about what "made" him late turn into a sort of jazzman's riff as he blames everything from a broken alarm clock to tectonic shifts.
As a writer, Hoehler deserves credit for expanding the image of working-class people and moving it away from the narrow stereotype of the obtuse Archie Bunker mold. These people have a range of thoughts and emotion that approaches the poetic. (Just ask Studs Terkel.) The most striking, and moving, example of this is his evocation of a gay waiter at the funeral of a truck-driver patron of his restaurant. The bond between the two such disparate individuals is made obvious, and what they shared is made movingly real, through Hoehler's perceptive and subtle text.
It is also a strength of the show that the characters, while always sympathetic, ask for no pity. Whether it's a janitor qualifying at an AA meeting or a juice vendor with a fatally ill daughter, the effect was to feel their emotions, not to feel sorry for them.
While Hoehler was the only one to appear on stage, a number of voiceovers were effectively used. This was especially so in a seriocomic English as a Second Language class, with Hoehler as the teacher and Bretas and Claudette Evans as Eastern European students. Director Chuck Brown worked well with the writer/actor in staging the action, avoiding static images and never making the movement seem forced or arbitrary.
In what is becoming a disconcerting trend in Off-Off-Broadway playbills, there was no credit listed for set design. Whoever is responsible did a nice job, though. The three sleek slabs at the rear of the stage were pleasant to look at without being distracting, a much-preferred alternative to the plain black curtain usually used in these shows to set an "indeterminate" space. The particular locales of each scene were smartly suggested by lighting consultant Mark T. Simpson. Hoehler's costumes (again, no credit given) consisted of a simple pair of jeans and a few interchangeable sweaters, workshirts, and top coats.
Working Class proved to be a winning, funny, touching piece of solo theatre and was well worth the time of anyone who could relate to it. (That is to say, everyone who works for a living.)
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly
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