This week on the blog, Savage Umbrella company member Amber Davis looks at the labor roots of May Day and weighs in on The Mill, Workhaus Collective's new play.
May Day is such an awesome time of year.
“Oh yeah, May Day! Like with all the puppets and stuff?”
Nope. That’s not what I meant.
May Day has green (pagan) traditions, sure, but I feel like all the artists in the Twin Cities, especially south Minneapolis, forget about the red tradition. The labor tradition.
May 1st is International Workers’ Day. So forget the puppets for a bit.
It surprises me that our community ignores May Day’s red roots, because wait; aren’t a whole bunch of our friends apart of Actor’s Equity Association, the Stage Manager Association, the Stage Director’s and Choreographer’s Society, or United Scenic Artists, and other similar organizations?
This year, one of the many ways I chose to celebrate International Workers’ Day was to see Workhaus Collective’s new play, The Mill by Jeannine Coulombe, at the Playwrights’ Center on Monday April 30th.
With May Day in mind, I’d like to share some thoughts about The Mill and hear your thoughts, too.
So I know the play is gonna be awesome even before I see it. It’s from Workhaus (heck yes), Katharine Moeller is in it (an SU friend and collaborator), and the play brings up worker’s rights issues. Bam! The play is a perfect fit to my May Day week.
There was just one thing that has stuck with me and made me think (and of course, I like it when new plays do that).
The play is set in northern Minnesota and is centered around a town where many of the residents work at the local paper mill. The mill has a chance to expand its company, but there’s one catch: The workers must vote to sign a new (and unimproved) contract to continue working.
One character, Case, (played beautifully by Eric Webster) is the play’s most vocal character about labor issues and the right to strike. He insists to the other characters that striking is a good idea and is the most direct way to move forward with negotiations. And if you ask me, of course that’s the most direct action! Case is right. We have power in numbers. That’s why SU works as a co-operative.
Here’s the thing. Throughout the course of The Mill, Case is revealed to be a sexist and racist working class man. He also happens to be interested in organizing workers.
He slaps a female character (Luce, played by Jodi Kellogg) on the butt in act one. Sure, it was playful, but it was not consensual. Case then commits acts of violence against strikebreaker workers, many of whom speak English as their second language. To add fuel to the fire, Case exchanges cold words and even icier stares with El Salvadoran neighbor Ignacio (played by the strong James Rodriguez).
I’ve been thinking. Why did the playwright choose to show an character sympathetic to the worker’s cause, while coloring him as a sexist and racist?
Doesn’t this make the play seem anti-union?
I don’t think The Mill is an anti-union play, but this character almost made it feel that way. To me, the subtle coincidence portrayed something deeper than intended.
Did you see The Mill? What did you think? How do you think the play portrayed union workers and labor voices?
Here’s what Lisa Brock at the Star Tribune thought. And Ed Huyck at CityPages.
For the rest of the week I’ll be wearing red and black in solidarity. Happy May Day!
(Yeah, okay, okay.... go enjoy the puppets too. Will I see you Sunday?)