Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In Waiting for Lefty, Odets captures fully the folk idiom of the six people on whom his play focuses. Each is a taxicab driver. Each has a story to tell. The six characters come from several walks of life but have one thing in common: They are forced by economic necessity to become cab drivers. Each exemplifies the antagonism that exists between the values of the business community and the human values of the play’s protagonists.
In the six vignettes, connected only by the job that the actors have in common, Odets explores such matters as collective bargaining, anti-Semitism, environmental irresponsibility, family cohesiveness, and the exploitation of the masses. The big question the play poses concerns the extent to which workers should control their own destinies. A union organizer, who does not appear on stage, is scheduled to meet with them to discuss means by which workers can deal with big business. Lefty never arrives because he has been murdered on his way to the meeting. When his death is revealed, the audience, already at fever pitch, is drawn into the action of the play with the cry to “Strike, Strike, Strike.”
Waiting for Lefty was premiered on January 14, 1935, and was staged innovatively, played on a blacked-out stage with the characters projected as shadows created by directional lighting. From the standpoint of play production, Waiting for Lefty was just what amateur groups were looking for. It...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
At a meeting of taxi drivers, a union official urges a committee of six men not to call a strike. Voices from the audience call out for Lefty, who was elected chairman of this strike committee, but Lefty has mysteriously disappeared. The union official, Fatt, and his Henchman threaten the union members and call those urging a strike “reds” (that is, communists). One of the committee members, Joe Mitchell, gets up and makes an impassioned plea for the strike. He starts to describe an encounter with his wife, Edna, which is then enacted onstage. The committee remains onstage in the background, where it comments as a chorus on the action it observes.
Joe comes home from a hard day driving a cab to find that the furniture he and Edna have been buying on installment has been repossessed and that Edna has had to put their two children to bed hungry. Edna accuses Joe of belonging to a union that is run by racketeers, urges him to start his own honest union, and threatens to go back to her old boyfriend. The chorus of committee members in the darkened semicircle beyond Joe and Edna comments that she will. Joe exits, saying he is going to look for another taxi driver, Lefty Costello, who was recently making statements similar to Edna’s.
In a flashback, Miller, another one of the committee members, encounters Mr. Fayette, an industrialist. Fayette gives a raise to Miller, then a lab assistant, and moves him to a new project, working with a Dr....
(The entire section is 908 words.)
Prologue: The Strike Meeting
The curtain rises on a union meeting, already in progress. Harry Fatt. the union leader, is addressing a group of workers seated before him. A six- or seven-man committee sits in a semicircle behind him. Fatt speaks forcefully against a proposed strike, noting the failure of several recent strikes, and arguing that such tactics are both unproductive and unnecessary. He expresses confidence that the President is "looking out for our interests," and suggests that those who wish to strike are communists ("reds"), out to destroy everything Americans hold dear. Despite his confidence and heated rhetoric. Fatt's message is not well-received. Throughout his speech the voices of workers rise in opposition and defiance, while the ominous presence of a "gunman," who menaces the hecklers, suggests that Fatt's leadership has less than honest democratic origins.
From the workers comes an enthusiastic call for Lefty, the (elected) chairman of the strike committee, who is mysteriously absent from the meeting. Fall suggests that Lefty has abandoned the workers. The workers demand to hear from the other members of the strike committee. Unable to calm the crowd, Fatt "insolently" gives way to Joe Mitchell, a committee member. Joe denies that he is a "red," offering his war wounds as evidence of his patriotism, and defends Lefty's courage and conviction. He speaks to the workers of their own poverty and exploitation, arguing that a...
(The entire section is 2406 words.)