SummerNITE, at the Bailiwick Arts Center

At a time when real wages are falling and more and more of us have insecure, perk-free temporary, part-time, or freelance jobs, it’s striking, even a little appalling, how few contemporary playwrights seem to write about the way we live. When they do get around to writing about people who are not mysteriously prosperous or somehow gainfully employed in the arts, they focus on working conditions in the past or in other countries. Perhaps part of the problem is a reluctance–political, psychological, economic–to disturb our precious preconceptions. Though lack of attention might explain it too.

Jon Tuttle’s allegedly comic look at mining conditions in a New Mexico town 50 years ago is musty, laborious, overwritten, and ultimately toothless. This amalgam of cliched characters gathered in a humble diner–the grouchy boss, the ballsy cowgirl, the good-hearted little guy–and ideas culled from dozens of other plays tells us nothing new about the hazards of mining (it was dangerous) or union organizing (it was hard). Tuttle has packed the play with characters, but all of them are paper-thin. He’s also extended it a bit with a Sam Shepard-style half-breed narrator who filibusters for a few minutes at the beginning of each act. Teasingly, the play is set on the outskirts of Los Alamos, but nothing much is made of the first atomic explosion, though it has a cameo halfway through.

Tuttle never even manages to draw a parallel between mining then and mining now. He might as well have written about the mistreatment of apprentices in France before the revolution. At least then he could have had a character mutter in a resigned tone: “O, Jean Jacques, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/George Tarbay.