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Working (Review)

NKU turns a simple show into an extravaganza

By Mark Sterner · February 25th, 2009 · Onstage
The curtain opens on a bare stage at Northern Kentucky University with a few gray geometrical objects scattered about. There's a striking lack of intimacy and human scale in this environment. When you see 39 cast members stream on (there were only 26 in the 2000 ATC production in Chicago), you realize director Ken Jones has planned his production of Working as an extravaganza.

The empty stage floor accommodates one thing very well: a dance show. To accommodate the needs of the choreography, other elements of the play have been altered. The stage is swept bare, and dancers back up most of the play’s monologue-like numbers. The razzle-dazzle of Jones’ staging of Working is not automatically a flaw, until you consider the authentic simplicity upon which the play’s emotional effects hang.

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For this simple but powerful show, based on a book of interviews by Studs Terkel, actors become American workers who talk about their working lives. The acting must be sincere and heartfelt, as 25 laborers divulge their deepest hopes, dreams, fears and resentments in words and song.

A typical scene concerns a lowly retail checker. As she sings about her tribulations, several phantom checkers dance behind her. The ridiculous positions they assume are reminiscent of a silly television commercial. Who are these girls? What do they represent or suggest about retail? The dancers distract from the soloist, and thus from the felt meaning of the play.

If you stay until the Working’s end, you will be rewarded by a triple whammy of monologues that are theatrical and emotionally authentic — by Charlie Roetting (a fireman), Simon Powell (a copy boy) and Bradford B. Frost (an iron maker).

The play ends with Frost hoping his boy doesn’t grow up to be like his old man. The appropriate interpretive dance in the background makes this the most powerful moment in the show.

WORKING, presented by Northern Kentucky University’s Department of Theatre and Dance, continues through Sunday.



02.26.2009 at 11:47 Reply
You know, all the dance really didn't bother me. I thought it added to pretty much all the numbers where you don't normally see it. It's a really interesting blend of dancing as well. I'm surprised there wa no mention of the student choreogrpahy in this show; those students did fantastic jobs. Anyway, after seeing this show, I have to say that Mr. Jones has completely reinvented Working, and in a great way (not only with the dance). Usually it's an okay show, but Mr. Jones' direction has really moved this show in a serious and topical direction, where many times I've seen this show played as only what's on the page. Mr. Jones' has found a way to tie this show into the world around us in an uncanny way. Considering the state of the country and the economy, how could this show not be topical. There are a slew of great performances, from the trucker, the checker, the old valet, the housewives made me cry, and the retiree just to name a few. This is an extraordinary show, fun but also very sincere and extremely poignant. NKU has done quite a job and I'm anxious to see where they go from here.


02.27.2009 at 09:24 Reply
I agree with chuckaduck. The dancing gave a fresh demension to "Working". Even the reviewer said the Father & Son scene (with dance) at the end was the "most powerful moment in the show". I agree & the coreo added greatly to the moment. Every single person I spoke with or overheard discussing what they had just seen were talking about the huge amount of talent that had just graced the NKU stage. I would liked to have seen in the review a little more acknowledgement of the talented students at NKU. Ken Jones' production of "Working" worked well for me. I did stay to the end & enjoyed every minute of the "extraaiganza".


02.27.2009 at 02:35 Reply
Pardon the typo: extravaganza


03.01.2009 at 10:24 Reply
This show was truly enjoyable in every way. The young talent up on stage was outstanding and the dancing only added to the feeling in the different scenes. Our family has seen many shows at NKU and they have all been well done and entertaining. This one really hit a chord with all of us and we thought anyone could find something in it to relate to. Director Ken Jones is genius and had a beautiful vision of this musical. He knows exactly what he is doing. His casting was superb. The show was funny, sad, touching and sentimental. It really made me think about things we just take for granted. I thought everyone on stage did a stellar job. Very fine "work". Bravo!