Stanford’s ‘Waiting for Lefty’ remains timely

Written in 1935 during the depths of the Great Depression, Clifford Odets’ “Waiting for Lefty” is still timely.

Stanford Repertory Theater is giving the play a compelling production with issues that resound today, especially in this election year.

The plot revolves around members of a New York taxi drivers union trying to decide whether to strike for better pay. Their needs then are illustrated in a series of situations such as the dire financial straits that are fraying the marriage of driver Joe (Austin Caldwell) and his wife, Edna (Tess McCarthy). Young Florrie (Fiona Maguire) and her longtime fiance, driver Sid (Andre Amarotico), can’t afford to get married even though they’re deeply in love. Neither man can find another job because of the Depression’s sky-high unemployment rate.

Other issues of the time are illustrated by Miller (Dante Belletti). He’s a lab assistant who refuses a lucrative offer by his boss because it involves keeping watch on a colleague developing poison gas, which he opposes on moral grounds, so he loses his job. A talented physician, Benjamin (Levi Jennings), not only sees a less competent but well connected doctor take over one of his charity patients, who ultimately dies, but also loses his job because the profit-hungry hospital is closing its charity ward. His being Jewish is a factor, too.

Besides the actors already named, the talented ensemble cast includes Christopher Carter, Thomas Freeland and Louis McWilliams.

Odets pushes lots of buttons in this polemic. However, they’re buttons that still need to be pushed given the profound income inequality that prevails today, along with the erosion of unions, the role of money in health care and prejudice against minorities.

The pace of this bare-bones presentation is aided by a minimal, uncredited set and lighting along with period costumes by Alina Bokovikova.

Director Marty Pistone and his nine-member cast stage a taut, one-act production that runs just under 55 minutes, but it still packs a wallop.