"Nickel and Dimed" opens at UAF
Elika Roohi/Sun Star Reporter
Oct. 29, 2013
UAF’s production of “Nickel and Dimed” opened last weekend with three shows and packed theaters.
The play is based on Barbara Ehrenreich’s non-fiction book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” which was published in 2001 when minimum wage was $5.15 an hour. Ehrenreich quit her middle-class life as a writer to spend three months working low-wage jobs in Florida, Maine and Minnesota to see if she could make it. Spoiler alert: she has a hard time.
The play, adapted for the stage by playwright
Joan Holden in 2002, follows Ehrenreich, played by UAF Theater alum Rachel Blackwell, through several jobs and states. Though Ehrenreich’s character is one of the few constants in the two and a half hour play, it’s the supporting cast that gets through to the audience.
One of the strongest moments in the play is near the end, when Ehrenreich is working at “Mall-Mart,” a direct jab at Wal-Mart, in Minneapolis, and she doesn’t have a place to stay. She approaches a social worker, played by Theater student Katrina Kuharich, and explains her situation. The social worker tells her to look into shelters and gives her a list of food pantries, saying she’s seen three people in the same situation that day.
Making the play relevant was something the cast and crew specifically concentrated on. They open the performance with a banter about who can relate to the plot more, tossing out some personal anecdotes.
“We know this world,” Director Brian Cook said. “We go to diners and make small talk with our waitresses. We’ve worked in a minimum wage job at one point or another. The truth of the story, though over 10 years old, makes the play hit even closer to home.”
Since Ehrenreich wrote her book, minimum wage has been raised three times–to $5.85 in 2007, $6.55 in 2008 and $7.25 in 2009.
“She could do that same experiment now and have the same experience,” Cook said.
Even though the play is based on a non-fiction book, there’s a compelling story being told. Somehow, the fact that all the characters are based on real people Ehrenreich met during her experiment make you pay that much more attention to the performance.
Every time you’re performing a character, you try to imagine them as a real person, Blackwell said. This role is slightly different, in that they actually are real people. According to Cook, it made everyone take it a bit more seriously than they might have otherwise.
“There really are people experiencing stuff like this. It’s something that’s going on in our economy and our country,” Blackwell said.
The eight-person cast plays 41 different parts during the play. It’s hard to keep up with at times, but nothing so confusing that it’s distracting
. If anything, it’s impressive to see the dynamic range several of the actors and actresses show during one performance.
Nicole Cowans, who starred in “Speech and Debate” last spring, is playing six different parts during the show, which is a new experience for her.
“When you have one character, it’s easy to dive deep,” Cowans said. “It’s hard to give everybody a background and a life and a story when there are six characters.”
“Nickel and Dimed” will be open for another weekend, with performances on Nov. 1, 2 and 3. Tickets cost $14 for adults, $11 seniors and military and $7 students online, and cost $2 more at the door.