There are few art forms that are as risky and brave as the one-person show. Dacyl Acevedo’s Will Work For, a soloNOVA ARTS production, is brave not only for its format, but for its subject matter. Written and performed by Acevedo, Will Work For tackles a subject that few people want to think about, a fear that lurks in everyone’s heart: the fear of unemployment.
Will Work For is a one-woman show that is both universal and deeply personal, depicting one person’s journey through the soul-crushing cycle of job hunting and unemployment during a period of time where everyone was talking about solving the job crisis. (“Talking” being the key word in that sentence.) Acevedo plays herself and an assortment of other characters – fellow job-hunters, workers, recruiters, and employers – all of whom are, in one way or another, sucked into the depressing and dehumanizing experience known as “looking for a job.”
A play from the terraNOVA Collective, Will Work For is billed as a “farcical and satirical journey into the new world of work and tells of how one person is surviving.” The description is accurate, but one should be advised that “farcical” and “satirical” don’t always mean “funny.” There are several humorous moments in the show, but this play is no parodical romp through the job application process. The humor that does exist is rooted in discomfort, provoking uneasy laughter from the audience as we watch Acevedo portray a series of discouraged job hunters, sarcastic workers at the unemployment office, and clueless bosses who discard temp employees like used tissues.
Acevedo’s collection of characters are ones we all recognize. The eager beaver interviewees whose desperation comes through in every forced smile and handshake. The slouching job seekers hunched over in chairs waiting to speak to a recruitment officer, beaten down too many times by the system to sit up straight and pretend to be hopeful. The tired, world-weary people at the unemployment office whose jobs entail talking to people desperate for work.
Acevedo plays each one of these characters as easily identifiable individuals who are all caught in the same depressing world. When playing herself, she touches on experiences and people from her past that inform her character today – in particular, the death of her father and the tireless work ethic of her mother. The autobiographical aspect of the show reminds us that each member of the group referred to as “the unemployed” all have stories and all have names. Her moving and fearless performance is a wake-up call, a demand for us to acknowledge the humanity of “the unemployed.”
The format of Will Work For includes a series of monologues, scenes in which Acevedo plays more than one character, and Charlie Chaplin-esque routines. When she leaves the stage for a costume change, videos of political speeches are projected on the back of the theater. We see footage of Newt Gingrich dismissing the unemployed as lazy moochers, and footage of President Obama promising in five State of the Union addresses to fix the job crisis as an audience of politicians leap to their feet in applause. The speeches, played without comment, serve as a searing condemnation on our leaders for their callousness and ineffectiveness in helping the people they represent.
Will Work For is a show that many will not want to see because it portrays an experience and a cycle of emotions that might hit too close to home. And that is exactly the reason why everyone should see it.
Will Work For is playing at the IRT Theater on 154 Christopher Street (Suite 3B) on September 12-15, September 19-21, and September 26-28. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7 PM and Sunday at 3 PM. There are several different theaters in the building; get there early so you can find the right one.