In 2002, Kurt Schneiderman and a group of like-minded souls decided to address what they saw as a significant deficit in the Buffalo theater community: not enough politics.
Specifically left-center politics, the kind that makes Bill O'Reilly's eyes bleed. Anti-war, pro-union, anti-racist and social justice issues don't inform enough shows in Buffalo, said Schneiderman, a Buffalo playwright whose work has also been produced in New York City, Toronto and Montreal.
Led by Schneiderman, the Subversive Theatre Collective, founded in 2002, will open its sixth show Thursday. It carries on the "gritty blue-collar realism tradition of Eugene O'Neill, Clifford Odets and Arthur Miller," the group's materials say.
The play, "Foundations," follows a day in the life of a union construction site on the East Side of Buffalo. Echoing actual events, Schneiderman said, the play explores the issues that erupt when the workers learn they won't be building the supermarket the neighborhood has long sought, but a police station instead.
One of the men had his son die in police custody, adding incendiary elements of questionable police behavior to the discussion.
"The play is a debate about the role unions play, and the issues that workers face in belonging to a union," Schneiderman said. "The politics that they put up with, the infighting, the downsides and the upsides."
The men have to grapple with the question of what kind of a union they have if they can't even trust each other, he said. "Some of the people in the play think they therefore shouldn't care about the union," Schneiderman said. "Other people argue that it's all the more reason to work on the union and clean it up."
The show is resolutely pro-union, even though the Subversive Theatre Collective itself isn't unionized, Schneiderman said. "There's really no way for a theater to be unionized," he said. "You can unionize trades in it."
Schneiderman said that overtly political theater is itself subversive, compared to more mainstream productions.
"There's this attitude that the arts are supposed to be apolitical, that people just want to be entertained," Schneiderman said. "That's precisely what we're trying to act out against, that art should have nothing useful to say about the world."
WHAT: "Foundations," presented by Subversive Theatre Collective
WHEN: Thursday through Feb. 10
WHERE: New Phoenix Theatre, 95 N. Johnson Park
INFO: 408-0499 or www.subversivetheatre.org