|Nelken, Anniko and Wilkie. Get scrubbing.|
Harry Nelken had a knife held to his head when when he drove cab. Rylan Wilkie spent a month phoning Americans to ask their opinions on a tax. Tom Anniko gutted chickens on an assembly line, snagging the occasional rotten bird loaded with an partially developed egg.
Those were the worst jobs of the main cast of The Dishwashers, Prairie Theatre Exchange's upcoming comedy, which follows a ruined stock trader into a subterranean dish pit In the bowels of the restaurant where he used to eat, Emmett's soul stares into the abyss - a future scraping endlessly re-dirtied dishes. Or is it hell? His coworkers, head dishwasher Dressler and pit-lifer Moss, both embrace their roles as necessary cogs in the dining machine. They don't look for anything bigger. As Dressler says, "Ambition is a dream you wake up from in the last moment of your life."
Canadian author Morris Panych dedicated the play to his father, a man who worked menial jobs his whole life without complaint. In service industry heavy Winnipeg, it's a fair bet some audience members will see their own lives played out on stage.
“We in Canada think there’s a large middle class,” says Wilkie, who plays Emmett, “but there’s tonnes of people working shit crap jobs we don’t even notice or care to recognize; people picking up garbage or cleaning our condos. I’ve even noticed doing this play walking through the (Portage Place) mall, ‘Hey that guy’s cleaning that staircase.’ And I’d never noticed him there or cared to notice before.”
“You stay in jobs like cab driving or dishwashing and you rationalize what you’re doing, because you’re afraid, or you tried things and it didn’t work out.” Nelken observes. “But those who do that, they’re people none the less... That’s what I learned from driving cab; never underestimate anyone and never overestimate anyone.”
The plays’ existential question – is a menial existence worth living? – may be presented hilariously (In one scene, two dishwashers debate letting the third drown in a plate of mashed potatoes and decide no, he shouldn’t get so lucky), but the struggle between ambition and settling for present circumstances have the cast seriously reflecting on their own lives.
“I put myself in a situation once where my ambition was beyond my ability,” says Anniko. “I was working at the CBC trying to move up the corporate ladder and I went before a board to interview for a job. As soon as I sat down I realized ‘Oh my god I’m out of my depth’ and it was humbling and humiliating. And I walked out of there knowing I didn’t want to go any higher; I’d reached the point where I was comfortable. That was a cure for my ambition.”
“In the end, it may have been the best thing that happened to me.”
The Dishwashers runs January 23 to February 10. Tickets and details at www.pte.mb.ca.
Favourite lines in the play
Wilkie: Ambition is a dream you wake up from in the last moment of your life.
Anniko: As you grow older your dreams become smaller. They won’t even be dreams anymore, just little wishes.
Nelken: Don’t let go of the rope!