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New LAB show gets under the skin of a culture in crisis

Bill DeYoung

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Tiffany Faykus stars in the one-woman drama "Wednesday's Child." LAB Theater Project.

Wednesday’s Child, the new LAB Theater Project production, could only have been created in contemporary times. Playwright Wendy Graf’s drama touches the tender nerve of low-income white Americans feeling marginalized, and turning to dangerous right-wing rhetoric as a way to reclaim what they believe is their birthright.

It’s a one-woman show with Tampa actress Tiffany Faykus as Britt, a white worker in a midwestern processing plant, turning out packaged chicken for America’s supermarkets.

The plant is overwhelmingly staffed by Latinos. Distrust leads to fear, which leads to resentment and rancor, which leads …

“It’s so well-written, and it’s a story that needs to be told,” says Faykus. “This doesn’t justify any behavior, but it humanizes it. You see how someone could get sucked in. You recognize the appeal. This is a character that had no life. She lost everything. And now here’s what she calls ‘my chance to lead a bigger life.’ To be part of something important.”

Graf, a Los Angeles writer with a dozen plays to her credit (and enough awards to fill a medium-sized bookcase), tells the Catalyst that the script began with a Washington Post story, “White, and in the minority,” about angry racial divides in a Pennsylvania chicken plant as local demographics inevitably changed.

“I read Hillbilly Elegy, and I read about the population decline of white, middle-class citizens losing their homes, factories closing and people losing their jobs, and losing themselves and their anchors,” Graf explains. “And having nowhere to turn. And they turned to Donald Trump, and thought of him kind of as a savior.

“The storyteller in me was inspired, and I began to craft a narrative. As time went on and the script evolved, I was surprised, I was saddened, and frankly I was very frightened, to find that Wednesday’s Child was becoming more and more timely. We were starting to see the rise of Q-Anon and the Proud Boys and all these other organizations who were kind of just a footnote when I wrote the play. And then January 6 happened.”

Britt, says the playwright, “wants everything that all of us want – home, and security, and to do the right thing. But painful events in her life cause her to see everything through a different lens. And can that happen to me? Can that happen to you?”

LAB founder Owen Robertson, who’s directing Wednesday’s Child, hopes Britt’s story will inspire compassion in audiences. “At its core, this play asks us to listen to our fellow Americans, to try to understand and hear their voices, something that has been sorely lacking in our society,” he says.

For Tiffany Faykus, that means making numerous voices heard, at the same time. “Most one-woman shows, it’s a narrative,” she explains. “It’s one person telling a story.”

In Wednesday’s Child, however, “I’m playing all the characters. There’s Britt at seven different ages, and then a whole cast of other characters. So trying to come up with the physicality, and the voices, and all the things that differentiate them has been quite a challenge. There are scenes where I’m playing four different characters, and voicing all of them. And none of them are like me.”

Indeed, Faykus, unlike Britt, is not a woman of extremes. There’s lots of hard language and angry posturing in the play.  “This has by far been the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted to do,” Faykus says. “I played Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, and that’s considered like the Mount Everest for actors. Well, ha. That was a piece of cake.”

Wednesday’s Child is performed through Sept. 19 at 812 E Henderson Avenue in Ybor City, with options for viewing in person, livestream or on-demand. Info and tickets are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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