Reviewed by Holli Harms and David Walters
We open in the employee lounge at Berry’s, a local Walmart-type store selling everything and anything from bras to lawnmowers. A young woman, Emmie (Jules Latimer), is there for a job interview. As she’s filling out the application there is a video (it’s 1995) playing about the family atmosphere and all the happy people that work there. Berry’s is a family where everyone is treated equally as long as no one starts talking unions. Unions are not allowed at Berry’s, they are disruptive. And disruption is not an asset, it stops work.
After the short film the hiring manager, Gar (Eddie K. Robinson), arrives to conduct the interview and we start to understand why Berry’s does not want unions because Berry’s is all over their employees every minute they are on the clock, time-theft is what they call it. There really is no family, there is only the work and keep your mouth shut. Bathroom breaks are timed, exactly a minute and a half, possibly peeing time but nothing more. If you go over your allotted bathroom time you are docked pay, if you are late you are docked pay, if you leave personal belongings on the floor and not in your locker (though there are not enough lockers for every employee) you are docked pay, and even if you follow all the rules you still may get a paycheck that is short by hours of what you are owed, because payroll has no idea, nor do they care. Emmie, who already has an evening job at a bar as a cocktail waitress, needs this $5 per hour job to pay rent, so she agrees to all the nonsense that is Berry’s.
She gets the job. The next day at work she meets her co-workers that make up the Berry’s family. All of them are there out of a desperate need.
It is the plight of the middle class, more and more, that there is never enough money. Making it check to check does no longer work.
All those we meet at Berry’s have someone, or someone’s, at home they need to support. Some need medical care, and that cost, without insurance, well you are screwed for sure, a fact in this country. A fact that playwright Eboni Booth drives home again and again. The characters lie to keep their jobs and not get docked pay, and one character even joins up with a rather unsavory ex-employee for extra money in the hope that one day soon he will get off this hamster wheel of work and no life, of work and no joy, of work to pay bills that aren’t making him happy, just keeping him alive.
The actors are all top-notch. They are what you are going to the show to see. Like the employees at Berry’s, they all work together to lift themselves above where they’re at. It’s both thrilling and exciting to see actors utilize their honed craft to make a play better than what it is.
The piece has all the right elements and the dialogue is funny at times, but there is absolutely nothing new here. Nothing you haven’t already seen done with more pizazz and flourish. This is not a theatrical piece so much as a made-for-TV show on stage, cut to commercial.
We specifically have to call out Ann McDonough as the matriarch of the Berry’s worker, she is hilarious, a master of comic timing, and Danielle Skraastad, as an at-the-end-of-her-rope single mother trying to feed four additional mouths, is so much fun to watch as she rips into managers and co-workers, her anger we know is there to hide her fear and pain.
The play is advertised as a racial play, but it is not that. It is a play about the working poor (what used to be the middle class) and the financial struggles of being underpaid to work all day and still not get enough hours to make the money needed to get to any kind of ahead you could possibly hope for.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
ATLANTIC STAGE 2
JANUARY 8 – FEBRUARY 16, 2020