Written by the Editorial Board of the Living Newspaper
Directed by Alex Roe
Though it lasted only a few years, The Federal Theater Project had an impact that can still be felt some 70-plus years after its demise. Producer Hallie Flanagan’s visionary program helped launch the careers of many show biz luminaries, and brought theater to communities where affordable live performances had previously been a rarity. Like much state-sponsored art, the FTP’s productions sometimes tried a bit too hard to be socially medicinal. But, as this lively revival of INJUNCTION GRANTED shows, they could also be entertaining.
As the play begins, a magician (Nathaniel P. Claridad), a dancer (Lorinne Lampert), an electrician (Cliff Miller), an acrobat (Kendall Rileigh) and an accordion player (Perri Yaniv) are suddenly silenced by bad news. Like many Americans, they’ve been handed a pink slip, their professional lives derailed by an ailing economy. Luckily, things look up as Roosevelt’s New Deal policies put people from all walks of life back to work. The arts are no exception, and soon our protagonists find themselves back in their natural habitat. Joined by a character called The Living Newspaper (actor uncredited) they fittingly choose the history of American labor relations as the topic of their show. Beginning with the indentured servants of the Colonial era, the show rockets through time to the modern 20th Century, referencing Bacon’s Rebellion, the Molly Maguires, the formation of the American Federation of Labor, the Haymarket Riot and many other significant incidents in the long – and often violent – struggle for worker’s rights. As the play’s poster suggests, the conflict becomes a kind of fast-moving sparring match between management and labor. Each side uses the legal system to strike blows against the opposition. Management is the heavier hitter, but scrappy Labor has a few good one-two combinations. There’s really no clear champion, but there are enough favorable injunctions granted to keep the proletariat on its feet and determined to go the distance.
Director Alex Roe makes inventive use of the Metropolitan Playhouse’s black box space and gives the show a circus-like vibrancy. The actors, clearly relishing their myriad metamorphoses, tirelessly embody laborers, farmers, tycoons, politicians, journalists, attorneys and a host of other citizens. If anything, the evening suffers from a few too many lightning-quick vignettes. It’s not the fault of the production, of the script itself. Less a living newspaper than a dancing encyclopedia, the narrative compresses so many events into a short space of time that significant details are often omitted. Still, INJUNCTION GRANTED adds up to something more than just a quaint relic of a bygone era. It’s didactic, yes, but it its buoyant theatricality keeps it from feeling antiquated. Viewers are, however, advised hold on to their programs and do some additional Wikipedia searching on their own.
INJUNCTION GRANTED continues through June 28 at The Metropolitan Playhouse, 220 E 4th St, New York, NY 10009. Tickets: metropolitanplayhouse.org/tickets