Just getting by in Venice Theatre’s Stage II production of Nickel and Dimed.
By Kay Kipling
Now’s probably a pretty good time to see a show like Nickel and Dimed (currently onstage at Venice Theatre’s Stage II), an adaptation by Joan Holden of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book of the same name about what it’s really like to try to get by on minimum wage in America. With the economy in the shape it is, more and more of us may end up in the trap that Ehrenreich intentionally entered to write a magazine article—which bloomed into a touching, thoughtful book.
In her quest to discover what the challenges are of finding housing, food and transportation on $7 or less an hour, Ehrenreich took on jobs ranging from waitress in a country-themed chain restaurant to hotel housekeeper to maid service to dietary technician at a nursing home to working in what’s carefully called “Mall Mart” (doesn’t take much to figure that one out). Along the way she met up with people living out of their vans and in tawdry motel rooms because they could never scrape together enough money for a rental deposit, mothers afraid they’d lose their children if they ended up jobless, and store and restaurant managers who abuse their own staff as they themselves are abused by upper management, on a journey leading from Florida to Maine to Minnesota.
In the end, Ehrenreich became convinced that those in the middle class and above are, in effect, benefited and made possible by the sweat and sacrifice of those in the working class—who themselves get virtually no benefits whatsoever.
It’s a moving premise for a play, and at times the message comes through loud and clear in the Stage II production. The flexible setup of the space allows the audience great vantage points to see the restaurant station, the cheap bedrooms and bathrooms where Ehrenreich sometimes finds shelter, and the depressingly over-bright discount store floor layout. Sometimes, though, the length of time it takes to make scene changes causes one’s interest to wander.
The cast is hard-working and plainly committed to their characters, most of them playing a variety of roles. As Barbara, Becky Holahan is among the most energetic and committed, and she does deliver some significant lines for maximum impact. On opening night, she struggled with her dialogue (of which she has a lot) frequently, and that was as frustrating for the audience as it must have been for her.
Becky Holahan in Venice Theatre’s Stage II production of Nickel and Dimed.
Bottom line: If Nickel and Dimed can move along faster, and if Holahan can get more of a grip on her lines, this play could be one that both touches and amuses. It’s onstage through Nov. 23; call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.