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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Nickel and Dimed

Also see David's recent review of Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill

Fans of the original book Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, may find watching Joan Holden's play adaptation a bit like reading a Reader's Digest version of the book. But for those in the audience who are unfamiliar with the book, as I indeed was, the expertly mounted production at Intiman Theatre will very likely lead many more readers to pick up the acclaimed original.

Ehrenreich, a comfortably upper-middle class journalist sets out on a quest to explore the lives of the American working-poor, by taking such low paying jobs as a waitress in Florida, a maid in Maine, and a retail sales clerk in Minnesota. The stage version of Barbara relates her experiences as she interacts with five other actors (one male, four female) who take on the characters of her various co-workers and their generally odious managers and bosses. There is as much humor as despair in the text and production, which may not be true to life, but makes for a less oppressive evening of theatre. And this never really lessens the guilt pangs you one may feel for being someone who can afford a night out at the theatre, when many of the people we see at their jobs every day would consider such entertainment a ridiculous extravagance or, for that matter, question whether watching such docu-drama can even be termed entertainment.

Nickel and Dimed is directed with a fluidity that reaches the near cinematic and an almost choreographed air by Intiman artistic director Bartlett Sher. Scenic designer John Arnone creates a front and back view of a Denny's style coffee shop, various interiors for the house cleaners, and a very sterile and stifling chrome rack lined mega-mart with equal panache, enhanced by Mary Louise Geiger's exceptional lighting design. The aforementioned choreographed feel of the show is in part due to an exceptional original score and accompaniment by Michael McQuilken.

As for the cast, it could hardly be bettered. Sharon Lockwood as Barbara has a look and delivery reminiscent of a younger Olympia Dukakis, and she creates a wise, often witty and always honest depiction of someone who really gains an appreciation for the good life she has often taken for granted. Cristine McMurdo-Wallis brings honest warmth to her salty veteran waitress role, and segues smoothly into the role of a New-England accented maid whose various infirmities end up shifting much of her work to her cohorts. Cynthia Jones is particularly exceptional as a born-again mega-mart employee with a touchingly sunny disposition, which contrasts well with her earlier turn as a down-hearted hotel maid. Kristin Flanders delivers what is perhaps the show's most affecting turn as a perky, young house-cleaning team leader, under the thumb of a boss who underpays her and denies her medical benefits, as well as an abusing spouse. Olga Sanchez seems the most short-changed by the script, but enacts her various roles with vivacity and commitment while the sole man on stage, Jason Cottle, is best utilized in his roles as the odious maids company owner, and in hilarious drag turn as a finicky lady of the house who takes issue with one of the maids.

This production of Nickel and Dimed is its world-premiere, and it will surely evolve in its run in Seattle before moving on to a recently booked stint at L.A.'s Mark Taper Forum this fall. As it stands, a capacity audience here in Seattle seemed quite appreciative of both the play and the production.

Nickled and Dimed runs at the Intiman Theatre, 201 Mercer Street in Seattle Center, through August 25. For further information visit their web-site at www.intiman.org.




- David-Edward Hughes



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