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Nickel and Dimed

a Drama
by Joan Holden, nbased on the book by Barbara Ehrenreich

VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 1635

SHOWING : April 27, 2006 - May 28, 2006



The Working Poor get their say in this look at minimum wage jobs and those who exploit them.

Director Del Hamilton
Cast Denise Arribas
Cast Mary Claire Dunn
Cast Patti French
Cast Clay Martin
Cast Yvonne Singh
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Three Hours Long, 20 Minutes Deep
by Dedalus
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
I’ve never read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed,” but I somehow suspect I’d like it much more than its stage adaptation by Joan Holden, currently in production at 7 Stages. In print, the material presumably comes across a series of anecdotes underscoring the dilemma of the working poor class. Unfortunately on stage, it comes across as less a play than a soapbox rant.

To backtrack a bit into the background, Ms. Ehrenreich went “under cover” for several months as a low-wage worker, gathering information for her book. She spent time as a waitress, as a maid, as a retail clerk, and more before writing her book (which, ironically, probably earned her many times more than her subjects will see in their lifetimes). For three acts, Dena Melon plays Ehrenreich as a shrill, priviledged outsider, acting like a patronizing jerk, lecturing us, and quoting carefully selected statistics at us. This isn’t a play – it’s a PowerPoint presentation! At one point, the action even stops so the cast can grill the audience on their “jobs from hell.” I can’t tell you how much I hated that.

I should be conflicted. As a card-carrying member of the “intellectual liberal elite,” it is my tendency to feel sympathy for the downtrodden and to think the worst of the corporate types who exploit them every chance they get. But, this stage adaptation is so dry, so in-your-face, so self-righteous, that my artistic-theatrical side just wants to bitch-slap the bleeding-heart side.

In a nutshell, the play/tirade “Nickel and Dimed” makes its point in the first act, then repeats it three times with little variation, without adding anything of interest to justify the looooooong evening in the theatre. The only time it comes alive as a play is in the first Act when the restaurant goes berserk and the cast is zooming back and forth as if they’re in a bedroom farce. It was the only note of energy and urgency all night.

Here are a few observations:

(1) As a protagonist, Ms. Ehrenreich is completely unsympathetic. Her journey carries no risk, her struggle can be ended with the flip of an ATM card, her exploitation of the workers is every bit as egregious as Corporate Policies.

(2) The play ignores the fact that the bosses these people deal with are themselves low-level managers who are probably living below the poverty level. Making them cardboard villains just makes her look silly.

(3) The statistics quoted were eye-opening and depressing. But what about the statistics showing how many of us started out in jobs like this and moved on, or, better, how many Single Moms in this situation are able to pull themselves out of it? Now that would have been an interesting play.

(4) At one point, the character Ehrenreich feels guilty about getting angry at a co-working and “blowing up” at her. Unlike all the audience, she didn’t realize her co-worker was acting like a jerk and deserved to be blown up at. By making the character somehow above anger, giving her a “free pass” to act like jerk without consequence, is maddeningly condescending and patronizing.

(5) In point of fact, all the supporting characters were more interesting than the lead, and all the supporting actors outshone the lead. I especially commend Yvonne Singh’s four characterizations (one of them male).

(6) There are no solutions offered, just relentless ranting. That could probably be sustained for a one-act, but not for the three endless hours this play lasted. Someone once said about a long movie that he didn’t mind the length – to paraphrase, he said “it may have been five hours long, but it was also five hours deep.” Unfortunately, “Nickel and Dimed” was three hours long, but it was only twenty minutes deep.

Okay, this review has been a rant of it’s own. It just reflects my disappointment with this piece. I was disappointed, because I sincerely believe working poverty is the negation of everything this country stands for, and it’s a subject that’s ripe for discussion and dramatization. It’s a subject that derserves a look at all aspects, not just those that make Corporate America look bad. It’s a subject that deserves population by real people, not Political Position Papers on the hoof exploiting Lifetime Channel Stereotypes on their knees.

On the other hand, it’s not without its effect. The day after seeing it, we were on vacation in North Georgia. My daughter and I were waiting to be seated for dinner at a national restaurant chain. And waiting. And waiting. A man and his family comes in. He stands there for two minutes, then starts yelling at the hostess as if it’s her fault that her company will someday go into bankruptcy, leaving her almost in tears. As irritated as I was with the service and inefficiency, my sympathies were with the hostess – I think I said something along the lines of “It’s a pity the heat brings all the assholes out of hiding.” It got a smile out of her. But it didn’t get me a table any sooner.

In my humble opinion, “Nickel and Dimed” looks at a very serious problem and completely blows it. Rants like this may feel good, but they won’t get us a table any sooner.

-- Brad Rudy (



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