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Welcome to The Fundamentals

by Anna D. Shapiro

When I was 14-years-old, I got my first job. It was at an ice cream parlor near our house and I lied about my age. I worked over-long shifts, ate ice cream for dinner and sometimes stole three dollars out of the cash register just to see what it felt like. I got the job not because I needed the money—at 14, I had a small allowance and my dad worked and we lived in a kind-of-big house in southeast Evanston. I got the job because that’s what all my friends did, at least most of them, and we had parents who believed working was important and we wanted to go to the movies and buy record albums as soon as they came out and they certainly wouldn’t (or maybe in my case, couldn’t) pay for that.

I have had a job ever since. Literally. I worked my way through college and grad school, at times holding three jobs at a time. I remember one particularly challenging summer before grad school when I would fall asleep on my parents’ bed and dream I was working until the alarm would go o and I would wake up, somehow back in my own bed, and it would be dark and the day would start over again and then weeks would have gone by. I look back on those times with great fondness and sometimes even great longing—when things were simpler and my story unwritten, with nothing but possibility and adventure ahead. And why wouldn’t I? I was never in any danger. Nothing, other than the rate of my own mobility, was ever at stake. In the internal logic peculiar to the privileged, all of those hours at the IHOP and those shifts at Limited Express would lead me here, to the job I have now. To the security, to the voice and even to the power that I have now. Or they wouldn’t. I never really had to worry much either way.

But Millie does have to worry. In Erika Sheffer’s insightful and funny new play, The Fundamentals, Millie’s internal logic must always take into account the outside world; one that has proven to her again and again that she is profoundly, inexorably on her own. Through Millie, Sheffer tracks the always complex and often futile challenge of both playing the game and surviving it, the apparent choice between being a good person or a successful one and how the rules can change based on your race, gender or class. Struggling to make a go of it with both a problematic partner and an indifferent boss, Millie has to constantly negotiate the things she wants with everyone else’s idea of how she should go about wanting them. For Millie, there is no net—emotional or financial— and the decisions she makes affect not only her own life but that of her child. That she still cares how she moves through a world that values her and her struggles so little is a testament to her character; that in the end she makes decisions some people may question is proof of the extremity her conditions can create.

Anna D. Shapiro, Artistic Director