I went to the staged reading of WORKING on October 24th, directed by Jean Haskell and presented by the students of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Temple University. The staged reading consisted of excerpts from the musical, WORKING, which was originally based on nonfiction book published in 1972.
I have seen WORKING before in its full musical form. At the time, I saw the production because a couple of my friends from high school had parts in the musical. It was a community theatre; however, most of the cast was made up of nineteen or twenty-something-year-olds.
In general, I didn’t find the show very compelling. Although seeing a college student sing about a lifetime of working in a luggage factory was objectively entertaining, I guess, it was difficult to suspend my disbelief. As a rule of thumb, actors typically play younger, but not older characters,and this was a show filled with young people playing beyond their age. I found myself not invested in the characters and bored of the content.
Seeing WORKING presented by a group of older people was a much different experience. I didn’t recognize the material at first. I saw the program and I knew that it had the same name, but as I sat listening, I did not connect the show in front of me with the campy musical I saw a year or two ago. What I was observing were real people, sharing their life stories. They were earnest and natural and it wasn’t until a woman started talking about a luggage factory that I went into the program to see that it was indeed excerpted from the same book/musical.
There are not a lot of outlets for elderly people to perform. Although there is certainly value to the perspective, as I witnessed with a powerful reading, it is rare to see a show where everyone is older, even when the material may call for it. I felt a true sense of value in their perspectives about working and what it was to devote your life to a career, a trade, a job. I felt like I had something to learn. That is a mark of a job well done and an effective performance.