Five O'Clock World...

Last year, when I went to select my favorite things about 2010, I was surprised to find that I had less categories to pick from than I had in 2009. Particularly troubling to me was the discovery that I had only been to the theater once in the entire year, and it was to see Carmen. This year, I have been determined not to miss out on so many theatrical experiences, so I have been making a point of seeing every show that catches my interest. So far, I've already been to Les Miserables, Laika: Dog in Space, and Hair, and tonight I continued the spate of theater-going by checking out a revival production of Working, a musical based on the oral histories of Studs Terkel.

Since Working is a fairly obscure show, I had originally planned on skipping it, but Studs Terkel is practically the patron saint of the Chicago History Museum. My boss' office is festooned with portraits of him, and the project I lead is technically conducted under the auspices of the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History. I was feeling some small, but ignorable pangs of obligation, until Justin and I were out to dinner across the street from the theater where Working is playing, and the restaurant was offering a promo code to get cheap tickets to see the show. Since it would be more affordable to go, Working became more attractive, and we picked tonight to attend.

The one-act show is constructed as a series of musical vignettes about the lives of people from different walks of life, and the work that lends shape to their identities. Virtually no character appears more than once, though the same six actors play different roles throughout the course of the performance. The fact that the actors are constantly transitioning through different characters was handled well, and wasn't as distracting as I thought it would be. In fact, part of this staging's conceit was to reveal the work that was going into its own production, and the stagehands and dressers would often appear on stage to aid in the actors' transitions. At first, the breaking of the theatrical illusion bothered me, but eventually I just found myself impressed at their craft and by how fully they threw themselves into each role. Beyond the acting, I was also struck by the quality of the singing -- they may have been the best vocals of any show I've seen this year, including the fancy national touring production. Local talent runs deep, it would seem.

Heading into the show, I was also concerned about how well the songs would hang together and transition into one another, given that the show has been revised numerous times, by numerous different writers, including James Taylor. Going against the maxim of too many cooks spoiling the broth, the show flowed well, and although there were no particularly memorable songs, all of the numbers worked together nicely.

Most notably, Working made me feel better about my own employment situation. Things could be worse -- I could be working in a factory, repeating the same tedious, dangerous tasks over and over again for eight hours a day; I could be cleaning other people's offices while everyone ignores my existence; or I could be selling myself on a street corner. All of those things would certainly be worse than what I do now, and I came away feeling more appreciative for what I have. Even if the show itself hadn't been so surprisingly enjoyable, the reminder of how good I have it would have been worth the ticket price alone.

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