“A Memory of Two Mondays” is not one of Arthur Miller’s more recognizable plays, but it should be. Especially at a time like this, when the American economy is going through a Great Recession.
“Two Mondays” is set in 1933, during the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate was 25 percent and people clung to whatever jobs they were lucky enough to get. Playwright Miller, like many other potential artists of the period, struggled through his young manhood in a vast assortment of odd jobs. This play, autobiographical, as much of his work is, is set in an automotive parts warehouse where a dozen men and two women banter and heckle each other through the long, tedious days.
Gus (Richard Leighton), who has spent 22 years at his desk in this grungy setting, serves as the captain and father figure for this motley crew. It’s he who forgives their foibles and shelters them from the watchful eyes of their appropriately named boss, Mr. Eagle (Billy Ensley).
Chief beneficiary of Gus’ generous concern is Tom Kelly (Conor Walshe), an alcoholic accountant who arrives late and so hung over he can barely make it to his chair. His dazed stare and complete lack of control of his body is hilariously over-the-top and provides the single best scene in the play.
The two women also provide interesting diversions. Patricia (Julia Mcllvaine), the attractive receptionist, is having an affair with one of the blue-collar workers (Jason Paul Field) who is married, harassed, and quietly desperate. Agnes (Lynn Wanlass), the pencil-thin telephone operator, has made the group her family and agonizes and empathizes with them over everything that happens in their lives.
Also notable are the young Irishman (Nick Cimiluca) who is forgetting the lines to his beloved epic poems as he sinks into alcoholism and lethargy, and an elderly gentleman (Paul Denk), buddy to Gus, who shuffles around insisting that he is “not 100 years old!”
Central to the drama, however, is Bert (Lane Compton) who is, presumably, Arthur Miller’s doppelganger. He is a young, temporary worker who is saving his meager salary to go to college. (College, he explains, costs $150 to $200 a year!)
All these background stories are established on the first Monday, a summer day in 1933, and climactically resolved on the second Monday, a winter day in 1934.
All the actors, under the scrupulous direction of Amelia Mulkey, are uniformly excellent. (The actors at the Ruskin Group Theatre always are.) But in this instance equal credit must be given to Cliff Wagner’s impeccable set design. The dirt and grime and old tire rims and filthy windows and dust over everything is so compelling that it makes you feel creepy just to look at it. And it ties you sympathetically to the men who have worked in that environment for so long that they don’t even seem to notice it. That is, until they whimsically decide to wash the windows.
“A Memory of Two Mondays” is a beautifully written, wonderfully acted period piece that is as relevant now as when it was written. First produced on Broadway in 1955, its revival production in 1976 garnered nine Drama Desk Award nominations along with a Tony nomination and a Theatre World Award for Meryl Streep. Watch next year’s Ovation Awards here in L.A. for kudos for this outstanding ensemble production.
“A Memory of Two Mondays” will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 25 at The Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. Call (310) 397-3244 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.