On the Job by David Fennario

On the Job is a not one of Canada’s best known plays but it does occasionally creep its way into the odd Canadian Drama class here and there. I found a copy of this at a local used book store and after reading a few random pages I figured it was worth the $2. David Fennario is well known in the theatre community but not as well known in the general literary community. The Anglophone from Montreal’s most prominent moment likely came in 1990 with the production of his infamous The Death of René Lévesque at his home theatre, The Centaur. On the Job was his first play, produced in 1975, starring Hollywood mainstay Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days, I, Robot, Dinner for Schmucks), opening to rave reviews and eventually being produced on CBC.

This play moves very fast as a written work; you could likely get through the 110 pages in 2 hours. One thing that I found very strange about the written text was the lack of stage directions. Contemporary playwrights are prone to give very detailed directions to aid in their original vision coming to life. On the Job seems to take more minimalistic approach primarily only using entrances and exits for directions. This requires you, as either a reader or director, to really use your imagination. The dialog is very punchy and has a heavy staccato rhythm. Lines are rarely longer than 10 or so words.

Now for the actual story; the play is set in the shipping room of a dress factory on Christmas Eve in 1970. Thanks to a new manger, the crew is upset because they are not going to have the afternoon off like they have every other year. This eventually escalates into a druken wildcat strike with lots of laughs along the way. On the Job is ultimately a play looking at Canadian class structures of the time. You have the lower level workers, middle management, upper management, and the ownership. Each of these characters are written as their archetypal class representations and done so rather effectively.

One comment I do have is that as a play to be produced for live theatre it has not aged well. If I were a producer I would need to do quite a bit of updating; a young audience member would likely have no idea what Eaton’s is for instance. As a piece of literature capturing the mood at the tail end of the Sixties it is very effective. By turns funny, rhapsodic, sad, and brutally honest; On the Job is definitely worth the read but I would never produce it or see it live.

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