Piecework, by Robyn Burland, is a tale of young love set against the backdrop of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. The story follows several fictional characters through the last day of their lives, interspersed with other characters of the time, who are fictional but based on historical reality. Directed by George Ferencz.
The play takes place on March 25, 1911 in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City. Most people know how the story ends: in a fierce conflagration that kills 146 young workers, mostly women, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants (and later leads to factory and labor reforms still in use today). But Piecework is not about their dying, but their living. It is about those workers just going about their business working, planning, loving, fighting. The story follows several fictional characters through the last day of their lives. These characters include a pair of young lovers, an Italian worker and her niece working to pay off a family debt, a girl determined to go into business for herself, and her friend, a loyal unionist.
Interspersed with these stories are other characters of the time, fictional but based on historical reality. These characters, played by a male and female narrator, tell the story of the times and the fire. Despite its subject matter of public tragedy, Piecework is not bleak, but filled with humor and the hope of a more innocent time. The play is constructed as an historical fantasy, and uses some of the theatrical elements of the time period, such as asides, melodrama, variety show, etc. The play embraces its characters with a particular warmth and their soulful and ironic language, particularly that of the Jewish immigrants, is keenly envisioned.
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