Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Monday, February 19, 2018

pjgame_tnKatie Keogh as Babe Williams at the sewing machine.Click here to enlarge. (Photo submitted by abbey.)

BETHLEHEM - Even in the 1950s, fighting for an hourly wage increase of seven and a half cents hardly seemed worth the effort – until you realized that after 20 years it would amount to $3,411.96. This is part of the plot of "The Pajama Game," which recently ended a successful run by the Act Association at The Gary-The Olivia Performing Arts Center at the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a cloistered community of Benedictine nuns.

 

The 1954 musical by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross is first and foremost a comedy, set in the Sleep-Tite pajama factory in the Midwest. George Abbott and Richard Bissell wrote the book for this play, which is based on Bissell’s novel 7-1/2 Cents. The show is known for giving Shirley MacLaine her start. It was made into a movie, featuring Doris Day, in 1957.

Director/choreographer Sally Camm stressed that the dynamics of a factory in the early 1950s would have been influenced by women who had been in the workforce since World War II and by men returning to the workforce after serving in the war.

For the Rosie-the-Riveter working women, "There was a real sense of independence, a kind of grittiness and committedness," she told The Transcript before the Aug. 7 performance. Women and men working closely together in the workplace was a new phenomenon, but men – even if outnumbered – were still in charge.

Workers at Sleep-Tite are poised to strike because the boss, Myron Hasler (Joe Stofko), has been stalling on his promise to consider granting a seven-and-a-half-cent raise. Even though business is booming, he claims costs are "outrageous" and profit margins are low. "My good friends, pajamas are at the crossroads," he says.

Mrs. Camm said that the "I’m-not-going-to-say-yes-I’m-not-going-to-say-no" waffling by Hasler is timeless, and underscores the frustration that exists between management and labor.

But when a man in management and a woman in the factory fall in love, both wrestle with their loyalties. Should Sid Sorokin (Thomas Camm, the director’s husband) discipline Babe Williams (Katie Keough) for insubordination? Should Babe abandon the cause of her co-workers? Even Babe has doubts about whether their love will conquer their job loyalties. "It’s just that you’re the superintendent and I’m the grievance committee," she says.

"They pay me to run the factory," Sid tells Babe after he fires her for sabotaging the machinery.

"So run the factory. You stay on your side and I’ll stay on mine," she says.

It’s a serious theme, but lively music and amazing choreography kept the show moving. In "Racing with the Clock," time study man Hines (Rob Iulo) leads the workers in a frenzy of activity where colorful pajama remnants are flying from sewing machines to material handlers to stock shelves as the beat of a ticking clock punctuates Hines’s repeated "Hurry up!"

Later, after a union-ordered work slowdown, Hines laments, "This is a crisis. The tops are 15 minutes behind the bottoms."

After the rift between Sid and Babe, Sid sings "Hey There" into a dictating machine: "Love never made a fool of you. You used to be so wise."

But love, of course, does conquer all after Sid’s discovery of a common enemy – Hasler, who has been hiding profits he could have been sharing by granting the requested raise. The union wins, Sid and Babe make up, and everyone celebrates by singing the title song: "I can hardly wait to wake, and get to work at eight. Nothing’s quite the same as the Pajama Game."

There are secondary love interests: between Hines and Hasler’s secretary, Gladys (Ashley Moret), and between union leader Prez (T. Abram Lee) and Gladys and, later, Prez and factory worker Mae (Wendy Scola).

During intermission, James Douglas, who co-founded the Act Association in 1982, said he started the theater company because "It needed to be done." Mr. Douglas played Steven Cord in the TV show "Peyton Place" in the 1960s.

Mr. Douglas seemed pleased with the performance, which he watched from the front row. His opinion was justified. There were both amateur and professional actors in the ensemble cast, and it was nearly impossible to tell the difference. Especially jaw-dropping was Ms. Moret’s rubber-jointed dancing in "Steam Heat," which she performed with Adrienne Camm. For pure comic relief, Fredrik Doms stole every scene in which he played Pop, the slow-moving, stamp-collecting father of Babe. Every time he shuffled on or off stage, the audience howled.

Mr. Douglas’s work, and the work of the actress Patricia Neal, who co-founded the open-air theater, are like the calculations in the song "I Figured It Out," which show that seven and a half cents an hour can really add up. Over the more than two decades of its existence, the Act Association has grown into a regional theater to be reckoned with. It doesn’t hurt that the Abbey’s prioress, Mother Dolores Hart, was a stage and film actress before entering religious life in 1964 and helped turn the small acting company into a theater that Mrs. Camm says now draws 3,500 patrons a season.