UNION, NJ — The second play of Premiere Stages’ 2022 season, “Scab,” opened at Kean University on Thursday, Sept. 8. Written by Gino DiIorio and directed by Glen Ridge resident John J. Wooten, producing artistic director of Premiere Stages, “Scab” is a play of subtle tensions apart from the strife connecting its two characters: Gilda, performed by Monica Wyche, and Eduardo, performed by John Anthony Torres.
There are reasons for the subtlety and effectiveness of the 90-minute play, which is performed without intermission.
The biggest reason is that Wyche and Torres make it evident that their characters are listening closely to each other. When actors can convey this, they will keep an audience’s attention. And clearly their characters should be listening hard to each other. The paper cup company where Gilda has labored for 25 years is shutting down and moving to Mexico. A single mother with a daughter, she is about to become unemployed. It is a bitter but high-paying pill she has had to swallow, crossing a picket line to instruct Eduardo on how to do her job as shop foreman, once the company relocates. If management deems that she has taught him well, she will receive $10,000. Eduardo, a sober young man, has a wife and two daughters in Mexico and, of course, wants to make good. While listening to Gilda, he continually scribbles notes but remains on guard for her tricks testing him.
Another note of tension is when Edouardo’s hand is injured and bandaged as a result of his being attacked by striking union workers, whose chants can be heard when the play opens. His injury is especially disquieting, since Gilda has already recalled the time a machine chewed off a co-worker’s hand. So when Edourado’s hand occasionally disappears down the throat of a choking machine to dislodge something, cross your fingers. And Gilda, a former union representative, has been threatened, too. The word “Scab” has been spray-painted across her car. These hints of tension build into a surreal and monstrous scene near the play’s conclusion. Kudos to Wooten for this.
The scenic design, by Bethanie Wampol Watson, is also effective in conveying tension. The machines are just four rectangular boxes, on an otherwise barren stage, which intermittently come to life with warning lights and alarms, as though demanding to be heard. A realistic lunch room, set above and aside the work area, reinforces the inhumanity of the factory.
Another subtlety is the way DiIorio elevates the language. Gilda manages to find imaginative curse words under every rock. Eduardo, who initially speaks a halting English, by play’s end speaks with a fluidity and refinement that, because we know much more about him, is altogether natural. He occasionally reminds Gilda that he does not speak Mexican, as she says, but Spanish. In no manner does DiIorio let the actions of his characters depart from logic.
“Scab” continues through Sunday, Sept. 25, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. For more information, visit premierestagesatkean.com or call 908-737-7469.