In this off-Broadway production of 7 Minutes at the Here Theater, Stefano Massini takes on another aspect of American culture – labor unions and contract negotiations. After his hit, The Lehman Brothers Trilogy came from the West End to Broadway and shined a light on American Capitalism, the increasing decline of unions is in his crosshairs.
It’s interesting that an Italian citizen has so much to say about the inner workings of American culture. Perhaps it takes someone from the outside to look in to see the picture. Do not take offense to his shining a light on some of our darker practices here stateside; we enjoy the freedom of speech, so most of the global noise starts here in the USA because, well, it can.
Based on a true story of a factory manufacturing yarn, the union leadership representing 200 employees receives a proposal by new overseas management asking them to give up seven minutes of their daily fifteen-minute break. They are informed that no layoffs are planned, and the factory shall remain open. We sympathize with the workers, partly because we don’t ever see management the employees describe pejoratively as “suits”.
The play characterizes deliberation, akin to the 1957 film Twelve Angry Men, about a jury seeking consensus in a criminal case. For the next 90 minutes, we view a heated debate led by union leader Linda played by Ebony Marshall-Oliver; she is the only one initially against management’s proposal. You’ll have to see the play to discover its resolution or non-resolution. A 90-minute discussion turns catfight with a mixture of aggressive acts as the eleven workers argue and sometimes harass each other in intense, passionate arguments. Anger, fear, doubt, trust – all come into play. It eventually comes down to a vote. The majority rules.
Thought provoking. Interestingly, the play does not explore options commonly used in union negotiations. For example, the workers might engage an impartial mediator to bring their requests to management, while management conveys their responses similarly. Should not the union ask management its motivation for diminishing break time? Do the math, Linda points out, seven minutes daily doesn’t sound like much until you multiply it by 200 employees. That gives management 1,400 minutes daily times 20 days per month, for a total of about 28,000 minutes additional productivity. And in the spirit of quid pro quo, shouldn’t the union ask for a trade? This is not developed in the play, and it seems unrealistic for the workers to give up anything without a reason, push back, or receive something in exchange. After all, the factory is doing well according to the financial department. Set this aside while immersing yourself in the action.
The play’s dialogue is special. You are witnessing real, raw emotion traded by factory walkers who, while they may seem different from one another, share the desire to keep their jobs and pay their bills. Herein lies the genius of this play. Massini captures people’s needs, fears, hopes, and grit, as they perceive a threat to their livelihood with backs against the wall in a timed exercise. Watching the discourse unfold you empathize with each person’s plight. Linda speaks of her pinky fingers being numb from years on a loom while Jordan (JoJo Brown) decades younger, already has her pinkies taped. Simone Immanuel who plays Rachel astutely delivers some of the play’s best lines. You can’t help but love the character she portrays. We will be looking to see more from this gifted actor.
You-Shin Chen must have worked in a factory here in the States – the set is so on the mark. Complete with coffee mugs used as pencil/pen holders, boxes of tissues, water-stained suspended ceiling tiles, linoleum flooring tiles, folding furniture – tables and chairs, microwave, coffee pots, and Cremora, a mysterious non-dairy powdered coffee creamer to complete the set. You learn to drink coffee black at work in a break room since milk or half-and-half in the common refrigerator is turning into penicillin or cheese. Anyone who has done their time in a factory setting feels right at work. On the main break table are aspirin, air freshener, and hand sanitizer. These personal items are likely contributed by the workers since the company probably does not dispense medicines or fund the break room.
The audience completely encircles the action on the center stage. One can see each actor’s facial expressions as they turn their back to the other worker with whom they are they are arguing. The actors convey opinions and reactions through words, actions, silence, gestures, facial expressions, and body language.
This is the U.S. and English premiere of 7 Minutes, produced in association with Working Theater. It has great potential to migrate to Broadway and beyond, so catch it while you can in this intimate setting and, as with Hamilton, which started at The Public Theater, you will be able to say you saw it when.
7 Minutes by Stefano Massini, translated by Francesca Spedalieri.
With Nicole Ansari (Mahtab), Jojo Brown (Jordan), Danielle Davenport (Danielle), Julia Gu (Alexis), Simone Immanuel (Rachel), Mahira Kakkar (Denise), Layla Khoshnoudi (Leyla), Ebony Marshall-Oliver (Linda), Aigner Mizzelle (Sophie), Sushma Saha (Nicole), and Carmen Zilles (Inés).
Directed by Mei Ann Teo; scenic design by You-Shin Chen; costume design by Asa Benally; lighting and sound design by Hao Bai; props design by Patricia Marjorie; casting director Taylor Williams; line producer Victor Cervantes Jr.; production manager Brittany Coyne; AriDy Nox as dramaturg; Genevieve Ortiz production stage manager.
HEREis located at 145 6th Avenue. Enter on Dominick Street, one block south of Spring Street. March 17 through April 10, 2022.
Runtime is 90 minutes.
The theater hosts an art gallery. The current exhibit is entitled Watch Your Step, by Laura Murray, curated by Dan Halm. This exhibit is an exploration of our current geological Anthropocene era.
March 17-May 7 the artist Laura Murray is showcased in the theater gallery. From the artist:
“One of my ongoing projects – 1, 13, 17 Years – centers on fascinating temporal insects known as cicadas, which inhabit specific isolated areas throughout the country. Buried underground for the majority of their lives, cicadas emerge for only a brief few weeks at the very end of their life cycles. A special species of cicada known as the Magicicada waits underground an incredible 17 years, then emerges in a swarm of billions and dies a mere month after emerging. Every summer I hike throughout the tri-state wooded areas, collecting hundreds of cicada exoskeletons shed by these emerging insects. I paint each cicada skin a lustrous gold, emphasizing its ecological value, and use them for site-specific installations. The resulting work pays homage to the fragility of nature and the life-to-death journey of these amazing creatures.”
The Theater Gallery is open Tuesday through Friday, 2 to 7 pm.