Nickel and Dimed: it’s the Answer to the Question: What do They Want?

About 15 minutes into New Century Theatre’s adaptation of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, its real meaning hit me right between the eyes. Watching this poignant, funny and sometimes wacky interpretation of her seminal book on the working poor’s struggle to survive in America gave me the answer to why there are still people camping out in Occupy Wall Street protests all across the US.

Empathy. Simple recognition of the difficulties that a vast number of Americans endure in their daily lives is what is needed as we wonder, ‘what do they want, what are the protesters seeking, what are the asking for? They’re asking to be heard and they are speaking up for the people who are brought to life in this play.

They’re everywhere, yet to some of us, they are not. As the male character in the play asked the audience, “in this Paradise of America, you audience members are probably not ‘Mal-Mart’ shoppers. ‘ And if any of us in the audience indeed did work at Wal-Mart, I don’t think we would have been happy with the play’s brutal depiction of both the store’s customers and the people who endure its forced overtime without pay and constant cost cutting and drug testing.

Enrenreich spent six months in 1998 working a parade of minimum wage jobs, living on the low pay and reflecting on the hardships of life at society’s working bottom. The play adapted from her book, takes us through a series of these jobs each with a rotating cast of the same actors who portray the struggles to find daycare, housing, medical care and respect in the cold trap of low wage employment.