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Lafayette College Theater will present Working, a musical adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso from the prize-winning book by Studs Terkel, Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 in the Black Box Theater of the Williams Center for the Arts. The production includes songs by Schwartz, Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, and James Taylor.

Working celebrates the diversity and commitment of Americans in everyday occupations — mill workers, grocery clerks, firemen, waitresses, secretaries, construction workers, and others — who, throughout the century, have powered American society from the bottom up. For example, the character Conrad, played by Joe Luke, a senior from Phillipsburg, N.J., reads gas meters for a living.

“Although he works in a basic occupation, he adds excitement to it,” says Luke, who also performs other small roles in the play. “He turns an everyday job into an adventure.” Acting itself is a new adventure for Luke, a starting wide receiver on the Lafayette football team, who is making his stage debut.

By contrast, senior Josh Oshinsky (Baldwin, N.Y.) has eight prior appearances in Lafayette plays to his credit, but he’s also inspired by Working.

“The biggest difference with this play is the ensemble feel it creates,” says Oshinsky, whose roles in Working include a trucker and an unemployed man with journalism aspirations. “Two years ago, I was in My Fair Lady, which is a standard Broadway musical. It has a leading man and a leading lady, everyone knows the standard roles, and there are set boundaries. In a play like Working, there are no boundaries or leading roles. There are 108 characters, all based on real people. With a small cast, everyone is very close.”

Working is directed by Michael O’Neill, director of theater at Lafayette. Musical direction is by Tom DiGiovanni, a 1996 Lafayette graduate, and set design is by Richard A. Kendrick, the College’s technical director of cultural programs. Chris Valenti, a junior from Summit, N.J., is lighting director. Laura Cece, a senior from Williamstown, Mass., is stage manager. Costumes are by D. Polly Kendrick, Parrott Designs, sound by Timothy Frey, and choreography by Tim Early.

The cast includes seniors Julie Drendall (King of Prussia, Pa.), Gianna Locascio (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.), Michael O’Neil (Cincinnati, Ohio), John Reap (Shavertown, Pa.), and Samuel Shaw (Tupper Lake, N.Y.), and juniors Christine McElhenny (Mahanoy City, Pa.), and Dwayne Thomas (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Also, sophomores Carolyn Berger (Orwigsburg, Pa.), Andrew Bostian (Seekonk, Mass.), Vilas Menon (Wassenaar, Netherlands), Rose Pilato (Redding, Conn.), Sandy Veresink (Easton, Pa.), and Liza Zitelli (Bergenfield, N.J.), and first-year students Jamie Billett (Redding, Conn.), Joshua Brodsky (Needham, Mass.), Suzanne Montgomery (Thornton, Pa.), Rashada Norman (Bethlehem, Pa.), and Elizabeth Youngkin (Easton, Pa.)

The production is the first in “The American Season: 1999-2000,” the College Theater’s theme for this school year.

“We are celebrating the end of the century and the new millennium by taking our students and our audiences on an odyssey through American theater of the last 100 years,” says O’Neill. “Working is the first of four productions we are presenting this season that highlight the American experience and how American playwrights interpreted it for the stage.”

“Studs Terkel’s prize-winning book, from which Working has been adapted, is one of the finest documents we have about what it meant to work in the United States in the changing workplace of the 1970s,” O’Neill adds. “The play, first performed in 1978, is clearly influenced by the intimate ensemble musical that emerged on the American stage in the 1970s in such landmark productions as Stephen Sondheim’s Company (1970) and Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line (1975). Our production offers Lafayette students the opportunity to work together as a unit as well as the chance to look back and learn about the lives of everyday Americans who helped shape the world into which they were born.”

Cast member Veresink heartily agrees.

“The everyday people in Working are portrayed with so much truth and substance that the audience has no choice but to become emotionally involved,” she says. “Their personal stories of becoming acquainted with the ways of the world are littered with broken dreams and painful memories. However, there are underlying themes of personal triumph in the fulfillment of their duties and an undying hope for the future of their children that seem to give this production a sort of emotional depth I have never before seen in a musical.”

Although Veresink’s credits on the Lafayette stage include the characters Lorene in The Time of Your Life, the mother in Six Characters in Search of an Author, and Helena in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she finds this role a special challenge, particularly the song “Millwork.”

“In this song, I have to try to understand what it feels like to be trapped by your job so completely that you have no future, and memories are all you have to look to for comfort,” Veresink explains. “The most emotionally charged line for me is when I sing, ‘Swearing by my sorrow that a young girl ought to stand a better chance.’ You have to show the disappointment of a wasted life without showing any hint of defeat.”

For Valenti, the lighting designer, the intimate setting of the Black Box creates hurdles to be overcome.

“With it being a small space, it sometimes can become difficult to work around much of the set and other equipment to get the look I want,” says Valenti, who draws upon his experience as technical director last summer at a theater in Kingston, Pa., and numerous stints as stage manager for Lafayette productions.

Lafayette College Theater will continue its celebration of American theater with a production of The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder November 3-6.

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