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Lafayette College's student theater production of Working, a musical adapted from Studs Terkel's prize-winning book, has been selected to participate in the 32nd annual Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, which recognizes the finest work produced in university and college theater programs nationally.

Directed by Michael O'Neill, Lafayette's director of theater, Working is one of only five productions chosen from among more than 90 shows at mid-Atlantic schools to participate in ACTF's Region II festival Jan. 11-16 at Clarion University. It's Lafayette's first production so recognized.

“This is a huge honor and a greatly deserved recognition of our students, production staff, and theater program,” O'Neill says. “It's the equivalent of our basketball team making the NCAA tournament field of 64.”

Winners of eight regional ACTF festivals across the country in January and February will advance to the national competition in April at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C. Lafayette's region includes Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.

In addition, three members of the cast of Working will compete for scholarships from the Irene Ryan Foundation in an annual acting competition at the regional festival. They are Josh Brodsky, a first-year student from Needham, Mass.; and seniors Josh Oshinsky of Baldwin, N.Y., and Sam Shaw of Tupper Lake, N.Y. The late Irene Ryan is best remembered as Granny Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Lafayette College Theater staged Working at the Williams Center for the Arts Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 and again, by popular demand, during the seventh annual Fringe Festival Nov. 14-19. It is a celebration of the diversity and commitment of Americans in everyday occupations — including mill workers, grocery clerks, firemen, waitresses, secretaries, construction workers, and others — who, throughout the century, have powered American society from the bottom up.

Oshinsky, a veteran of nine Lafayette College Theater productions, says Working stands apart.

“The biggest difference with this play is the ensemble feel it creates,” says Oshinsky, whose roles 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.”

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 Shaw, 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.), Brodsky, Suzanne Montgomery (Thornton, Pa.), Rashada Norman (Bethlehem, Pa.), and Elizabeth Youngkin (Easton, Pa.)

Working was the first production in “The American Season: 1999-2000,” the College Theater's theme for this school year. The next production will be Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof March 1-4.

“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 was 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.”

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