I’ll take it, oh yes, I’ll take it!
I’ll never write my novel, just show me where to grovel--
I’ll take it, oh yes, I’ll take it!
I’ve left my pride behind, along with half my mind….
From “Temp Slaves”
“Temp Slaves,” a butt-kickingly bitter musical satire by playwriting team Catherine Capellaro and Andrew Rohn made its West Coast debut in the La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley last Tuesday, July 24 on its way to several performances this coming weekend at the SoMa Cultural Center in San Francisco.
The 20 person troupe was invited from Madison, Wisconsin to be the centerpiece of the LaborFest 2001 Conference.
The phrase “Temp Slave” refers to “disposable workers” who are hired and fired frequently to suit the immediate needs of their employers. According to Capellaro and Rohn, increasing numbers of American workers are hired without knowing whether their jobs will continue to the next day — and temps earn 40 percent less per hour than permanent employees. Paying temps a reduced wage means there’s more money for full-time employees and the employer.
This grimly sparkling and professionally staged play opens with a chorus line of unhappy temp workers such as the “willing to work” single mother kicked off welfare and fearful of losing her kids, and a depressed Ph.D sucker-punched by lack of opportunity. Many of the characters are in danger of defaulting on their student loans. All are desperate to pay their rent. Soon, the evil “PeoplePower Temporary Agency” has them all in its asphyxiating grip.
One temp, Alexis, played by Shani Stewart, an African-American Lauren Bacall, is a word processing expert who – because her employer is racist – is tracked into working as an angry singing (”cock-a-fucking-doodle-do”) chicken.
Two temps: Steve, played by the born-to-act Robert J. Moccero, and Eddie, played by that capable multi-tasker Andrew Rohn, perform a droll and brilliantly goofy song and dance wearing bedpans for hats and using walking sticks for canes. Moccero and Rohn — hired to serve as guinea pigs for doctors-in-training who are learning how to perform rectal exams — explain “turning the other cheek.”
Interestingly, Cappellero and Rohn say they met while on temp jobs in which they sold their bodies for medical research. According to Cappellero, the worst aspect of temping your body for medical research is the desperation that makes workers feel that they have no other choice.
PeoplePower’s daft and uncaring Violet, well-acted by Marcy Weiland, sends each temp to a horrible first day of work. The harassed Melissa, sensitively portrayed by SaRa Schabach, manages to explode a computer and break up a marriage. Maggie, poignantly played by Nikki Andrews, taste-tests 360 batches of cookies.
The Machiavellian senator Hartman, played by the glinty Bob Moore; and the grinning bad guy “Dick” Solomon, Manager of People Power, acted by the effervescent Jake Jacobson, fulfill every worker’s most paranoid expectation. But never fear — the workers will want to exact their revenge, assisted by Capellero’s deliciously wicked portrayal of a dominatrix.
The hard core rage, scorpionic acting, and stark workplace realities make “Temp Slaves” a must-see. Somewhat jarring is that the “greedy” character is given an obviously Jewish sounding name — No other ethnicity is attacked. The inspiration for this play, the anthology “Temp Slaves” by Jeff Kelly, additionally contains a series of cartoons about oppressed workers labeled “Christian Angst” which leave this reviewer, at least, wondering why it was felt necessary for non-Christians to be singled out in this way.
“Temp Slaves” will be showing at the South of Market Cultural Center, in San Francisco, for evening performances (and some matinees) on 7/22, 7/27, 7/28, and 7/29. For more information and tickets call 415.642.8066.
Sari Friedman’s work appears in literary magazines and anthologies. She is the recipient of the New Voice Award in Fiction from the Writer’s Voice.