THE STORY: Can a middle-aged, middle-class woman survive, when she suddenly has to make beds all day in a hotel and live on $7 an hour? Maybe. But one $7-an-hour job won’t pay the rent: she’ll have to do back-to-back shifts, as a chambermaid and a waitress. This isn’t the first surprise for acclaimed author Barbara Ehrenreich, who set out to research low-wage life firsthand, confident she was prepared for the worst. Ehrenreich’s best-seller about her odyssey is vivid and witty, yet always deeply sobering. Joan Holden’s stage adaptation is a focused comic epic shadowed with tragedy. Barbara is prepared for hard work but not, at age 55, for double shifts and nonstop aches and pains; for having to share tiny rooms, live on fast food because she has no place to cook, beg from food pantries, gulp handfuls of Ibuprofen because she can’t afford a doctor; for failing, after all that, to make ends meet; or for constantly having to swallow humiliation. The worst, she learns, is not what happens to the back or the knees: it’s the damage to the heart. The bright glimpses of Barbara’s co-workers that enliven the book become indelible portraits: Gail, the star waitress pushing 50 who can no longer outrun her troubles; Carlie, the hotel maid whose rage has burned down to disgust; Pete, the nursing home cook who retreats into fantasy; Holly, terrified her pregnancy will end her job as Team Leader at Magic Maids, and with it her $0.50 raise. These characters endure their life struggles with a gallantry that humbles Barbara, and the audience. The play shows us the life one-third of working Americans now lead, and makes us angry that anyone should have to live it.
“…undeniably provocative…One can’t see this stage version without questioning an economy in which poor people subsidize the lifestyle of the middle and upper classes.” —Variety. “Daring…attacks the privileges of 90% of the people who will see it…Ehrenreich’s irrepressible sense of humor admirably translated from page to stage.” —LA Times. “Involving, important and urgently topical.” —Philadelphia Inquirer. “Penetrating clarity and sharp, illuminating humor…succeeds beautifully in creating the wearying reality of dead-end jobs and the people trapped in them.” —San Francisco Chronicle. “A rare example of theater that tries to open people’s eyes to the way life is lived in the real world—and maybe even rouse them to action.” —Time Magazine.