AISLE SAY Twin Cities


Written by Joan Holden
Based on the book
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Directed by Bill Rauch
With live music by Amy Van Patten
Guthrie Lab
700 North First Street, Minneapolis (612) 377-2224

Reviewed by Ellen Dworsky and Roxanne Sadovsky


Dear Elle,

It's funny how much I've thought about "Nickel and Dimed" since we saw it last week at the Guthrie Lab. Like I said to you last week, the content got me thinking much more than the production. How unusual! No smart-ass comments about the dated dancers or annoying "I'm Acting" accents. The production was excellent. I am grateful that the Guthrie Lab continues to bring cutting edge theatre to the mainstream fringe-despite its disaster with "The Chairs".

Funny thing: I've been nickel and diming my way around Minnesota all week. As I travel, I think more and more about our debate, and while I stand firmly behind my theory that it is the misconception of mental illness which is impoverishing this country, not low-wage jobs, I am paying more attention to those who do the grunt work the black and blue collar sector of society. (By the way, did I eve tell you I worked for a place sort of like Shalom Home? Yeah, I wiped asses and cleaned toilets for $5.25 an hour.)

Anyway, as we are well aware, the point of this is to review the show, not argue back and forth the validity of the relativity of "making it" on minimum wage. Again (and this is my last point), Elle, have you ever been to Egypt? Have you seen what minimum wage buys in Mexico?). Yet, as I sit here in Methuselah (my car) watching a gaggle of newborn ducks stick together instinctively for warmth, I know if we metaphorically had more of that, minimum wage wouldn't even be an issue. If we just all huddle together, we'd...

Dear Rox,

No, I've never been to Egypt. When I was living in Israel in 1980, Jews couldn't get visas. You had to go through Greece. But that's beside the point. And if the point is to review the show, why do I always get stuck with the plot summary? Anyway, I just broke up with my lover and I'm not feeling very motivated.

Dear Elle,

It's about time. He never deserved you anyway. Just wait and see, your Prince Shlomo is out there. You'll find him. Do you want me to do the plot summary?

Dear Rox,

I started feeling guilty about falling down on the job, so I wrote this: "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" is Joan Holden's adaptation of Barbara Ehrenreich's (nonfiction) book of more or less the same name. Having read this wonderful book, I was very curious to see how this would work as a play. Would it be as smart and funny as the book? Would they fictionalize? How would they manage to get through low wage jobs in 3 states--Florida, Maine, and Minnesota? What about all the different characters? I didn't see how it could be done well. But it was. Very well. I was particularly impressed with the ever-changing set, walls on the left and right parts of the stage slid back and forth to reveal kitchens, locker rooms, bathrooms, and bedrooms, while the main part of the stage was reserved for the main part of the action.

Props were put to good use. Unlike "The Chairs" where I dreamed of owning those cool vintage suitcases (and you coveted the old chairs) but the props, felt like those yoga blocks people use if they aren't limber enough to do the positions on their own. Oh, no. I'm turning into you with the strange metaphors. Never mind. In this play, everything worked. During a scene in which Robynn Rodriguez is doing a monologue about searching out accommodations in Maine, as she talked about each cheap hotel, the bedspread on the bed was snatched off to reveal another underneath. And another, and another, until 7 or so stops later, she had found a room to rent.

Well, Rox, I've run out of steam and I've just talked about the set design--well, thumbs up to Christopher Acebo and Lynn Jeffries. I'm going to crawl underneath the covers and put the pillow over my head. But let me be like a Minnesotan and find that silver lining and count my blessings. Let's see, I may feel sad now but at least I'm not working for minimum wage. Can you write a little more?

Dear Elle,

Can't I always? You realize though, this may mean more criticism.

Actually, thanks for reminding me about the quality of the production, which looked great on stage-in fact, the manipulation of the stage space almost allowed me to oversee the manipulation of the book's theme. (But we don't need to get into all of that again, do we?).

The production was one of the best I have seen at the Guthrie. I think the use of choreography--by that, I mean the rhythm of the actors in relation to one another, not the "stage direction"--portrayed amazingly organic relationships between people. I am sure a lot of that had to do with the directing, but the Holden chose the most engaging scenes from the book and brought them to life. All of this shop and prop talk is going somewhere--I promise.

So, for the first time ever in the history of the 2-Jew Review, I had my first external, rather than internal, moment of clarity. I mean, I was changed by what I saw in the moment, instead of the long agonizing process of thinking about what I saw. Does that make sense? Let me try this: I owe actress Isabell Monk O'Connor the tallest beer in the world for getting me to understand Minnesota Nice, something I have been trying to understand since moving here 2 years ago. Without a long diatribe on our favorite subject, I will just say that coming from the West Coast, the left of the left coast at that, this place is horribly and tragically repressed. I know this is at least on thing we can agree on.

All along I have been thinking that Minnesota Nice is about attitude. Now, I have to wonder; when Monk presented another perspective, I felt really sheepish. Remember that scene, Elle? That scene between she and Barbara on their swing shift at Wal-mart? Well, something in the way she moved, scurried away with her cart of overstocks when Barbara reached out to her, revealed how painfully protective she was of "showing" her affection toward Barbara. Not because she didn't feel affectionate toward her, but because she was afraid of getting caught by the stupid boss! Duh!

Anyway, this really reminded me of the power of theater, the origin of its existence. Sure, it got me way thinking about my own life, my totally repressed dad (but in the sweetest of ways, repressed), etc, but the point is the inspiration of the character Monk embodied. Here, I've spent 2 years with my panties in a wad about these uptight passive aggressive Minnesotans, whereas passive aggressive is often just fear of showing oneself. Now, don't get me started on the why...

Okay, Elle, that's all I got. Don't worry about your ex-lover. After all, he's chosen a minimum wage life, whereas you're more of a power Jew ninja. Besides, he wasn't a Jew for God's sakes! He lives on Suburban Row, cleaning up after people's messes so he can continue to put off his own. Then again, that's his choice. And why you should be glad you'll no longer be making 8 bucks and hour in the field of love. Mazel tov, girlfriend, you finally quit working at the convenience store of love. Now, you will love who you love and the high wage will follow....

Talk to you soon, Elle. Oh, I am on a no-spending money kick this week. I'm having my students read Nickel and Dimed this week and I have insisted that we all cut back for the week as an experiment. Sort of ironic, huh?

Dear Rox,

Ah, you with the metaphors. You make him sound like a janitor instead of a chemical dependency counselor, but I get your point. As usual, we're over our word count, so I'll just do my usual closing by telling everyone that they should not only read the book, but also go see the play. It was one of the most engaging productions we've seen in a long time.

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