Journalist and broadcaster Studs Terkel is an American writer whose proletarian commitment evokes the work and ambition of Upton Sinclair (The Jungle, The Millennium). However, in spite of his journalistic fame, few know of Terkel's relationship with Broadway.
Culling more than 100 interviews with Chicago workers, in 1974, Terkel published what would prove to be his most popular book, one that without precedent captured the true climate of America's working people: Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. Aside from its tediously descriptive title, Working charmed and fought its way into America's collective culture, exposing for the American proletariat and bourgeoisie the workaday realities of those diverse jobs ranging from prostitute to corporate executive.
Four years later, Working was adapted for Broadway (morphing into a musical, of all things). Composer Stephen Schwartz brilliantly captured the book's pungent social criticisms with monologues and musical numbers from such talent as James Taylor, Mary Rodgers, and Susan Birkenhead.
Now, thanks to the Northwood Players, for a short time San Antonians have the privilege of seeing this stalwart play performed in their own backyard. Seldom does Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction make its way to Broadway, let alone the Alamo City.
Joined by talented actors and actresses from Sunset Ridge Church of Christ, University Presbyterian Church, Madison Square Presbyterian Church, and First Church of Christ Scientist, the Northwood Players perform Working with much heart and even more soul.
The play's structure is a simple one, each of the two acts being comprised of various tunes and monologues detailing the working lives (the hopes, fears, aspirations, tragedies) of the individuals: truckers, cleaning women, executives, waitresses, teachers. It's a rare pleasure to experience a staged performance knowing that the actors are portraying real working people of Chicago, not fictionalized characters. The speeches and songs in Working echo the sentiments of the individuals whom Terkel interviewed for his book: feelings of being unappreciated by their employers, abused by those whom they serve, all while striving to love their families and feel pride about eking out a living in America, however cushy or back-breaking that livelihood proves to be.
However, amidst the remorse and injustice are wonderfully funny and heart-warming scenes that can move even the most hardened, unapologetic money-grubber to feel compassion and respect for the noble, selfless spirit of the American working man and woman, on which the wealth and power of this country has been built.
As a cast member said proudly: "Working is different from a lot of what the players have done in the past. It's real, not fantasy. And you'll leave with a good feeling about our country and its citizens."
Working's import lies above the individual lines and tunes of the play, existing for the audience in the workers' collective character and sentiment about how they work and live. As Terkel once said, "We've yet to find jobs big enough for our spirit," and the play emphasizes the urgency of all people to work towards changing the world in which they live, regardless of what they do for a living.
Studs Terkel's Working
Friday, March 22 and Saturday, March 23
$15, includes dinner
Northwood Presbyterian Church
518 Pike Place