Julia Thurston’s Paved with Gold and Ashes effectively captures the “American” gold-dusted dreams and hopes of five of the many immigrant garment workers employed at The Triangle Shirt Waist Factory. Based on a true story, the play heart-warmingly encapsulates their journeys, working conditions, relationships with each other and the factory in a crisp hour, all leading to the tragic fire claiming the lives of 146 garment workers in 1911. Their interactions- shuffling between each other and the audience are cleverly and cohesively crafted using movement, song and visceral storytelling with directorial support from Maria Cristina Petitti, Warren Rusher, and Stephen Smith.
An intimate black box with static warm golden lights, wooden chairs and white fabric create a striking composition for a claustrophobic factory and eventually, the suffocating fire. One by one, the audience is invited into the lives of five women. Rose (Everleigh Brenner) is the only child of a Rabbi, nervously obsessed with finding a match. Italian sisters Lucia (Julia Thurston) and Rosaria’s (Caroline Letelier) constant bickering is pleasantly humorous. Ida (Serena Lehman), pregnant and engaged, seemed the most optimistic and closer to living her desired dream life. Her death, thus, probably causes the most disappointment. Annie (Olivia Gaidry) is a lone Irish woman, probably the most resilient. Through their interactions, sometimes warm, sometimes resistant, and filled with both hope and frustration, one can perceive a sense of harmony and sisterhood.
A commonality between them is their striking optimism for a better life which sometimes overarches the grimness of the situation. While it makes their performance warm and renders some lightness to the piece, it stops me from experiencing the dark reality that is their life. The piece might benefit from reassessing character backstories and refining them in performance. For example, despite a stark difference in their living conditions and cultural backgrounds, all of them seemed to project a similar persona. Perhaps it was the lack of accents or a lack of costume differences. However, the climax undeniably shines through evocative language, strong movement and crisp delivery by the ensemble.
Overall, this play is solid and captivating, vividly capturing the duality of the American dream- golden for some while reducing some to ashes. A powerful piece of fringe theatre! It makes its way to the Edinburgh Fringe from 14th – 26th August 2023.
Reviewer: Khushboo Shah
Reviewed: 10th August 2023
North West End UK Rating: