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Nickel & Dimed

Translating the most basic stuff of life into theatre and transforming the mundane 9-5 grind into a dramatic spectacle can be quite a challenge, especially when drawing inspiration from non-dramatic sources. Admirers of sociologist Barbara Ehrenreich's groundbreaking book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, might find playwright Joan Holden's theatre adaptation akin to a Reader's Digest abridged version. But for those of us who are unfamiliar with the book, the staged version is compelling enough to make many of us pick up the celebrated original.

Brava! for Women in the Arts, in concert with TheatreWorks, will present the Northern California premiere of Nickel and Dimed October 8 through November 9 at the <a href="/business.php?blId=4240">Brava Theater Center in San Francisco</a>. The play received its world premiere in 2002 at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle and has also played at the esteemed Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and the Trinity Repertory in Providence, RI. In their decision to join forces artistically and share production rights, Brava! and TheatreWorks share the same objective: to reach thousands of people of diverse economic backgrounds in the Bay Area, especially those for whom the work was written.

The play is taken from Ehrenreich's study of unskilled labor in America during the late 1990s. Ehrenreich herself is an upper-middle class journalist who set out in 1998 to explore the lives of the American working-poor. In doing so, she took on low paying jobs—as a waitress in Florida, a maid in Maine, and a retail sales clerk in Minnesota. What emerges is a story of the toil and excruciating economic realities of those whose lives are spent tiptoeing along the poverty line. In Ehrenreich's desire to run back to her real life, it's also a portrait of the advantages enjoyed by the middle class.

Holden's stage version of Barbara, played by Sharon Lockwood, relates her experiences in a vein similar to Eve Ensler, the acclaimed playwright of The Vagina Monologues. Barbara interacts with other actors who assume the characters of her various co-workers and their generally abhorrent managers and bosses. Barbara contextualizes her experiences with asides to the audience and citations of wage statistics, working conditions, housing, and union membership. The translation from printed page to stage is surprisingly fluid and infused with unexpected humor. Holden's Seattle premiere was noted for its clever marriage of set design, composition, and lighting. Scenic designer John Arbone pieced together a front and back view of a Denny's-style coffee shop, various interiors for the house cleaners, and a sterile chrome rack-lined department store with equal panache.

For the California premiere, four veterans of the Tony award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe join forces: Joan Holden (writer and collaborator for more than 28 Mime Troupe shows); director Daniel Chumley; actress Sharon Lockwood; and composer Liberty Ellman. The six-member cast brings to life over 35 different characters (from New England-accented hotel maids to abusive spouses to finicky ladies of the house), and the original jazz score will be performed live.

Despair is counterbalanced by humor in the production, which might be far from realistic but allows for a less heavy-handed evening of theatre. It's questionable that this could really lessen the guilt one may feel for being able to even afford a night out at the theatre, while many of those portrayed in the play would consider such entertainment a ridiculous extravagance. All the same, Nickel and Dimed raises provocative questions about American prosperity and social reform, and is a compassionate exploration of America's minimum wage workers.

Brava's own mission is "to give voice to the unspoken realities of women's lives," which parallels Ehrenreich's message. Brava! is also preparing a series of events to underscore the issues within the play, including an evening with Barbara Ehrenreich on October 11, 2003, which is the opening night. For more information on >Nickel and Dimed, visit <a href="http://www.brava.org">www.brava.org</a>; or call 415 - 647 - 2822.

<a href="/business.php?blId=4240">Brava! For Women in the Arts</a>
October 8 - November 9
2781 24th St.
(24th @ York)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.641.7657
<a href="http://www.brava.org">www.brava.org</a>;