Fiction has the capacity to transport us from the drudgery of everyday life to new worlds filled with opportunity. First-time playwright Gene Bruskin has created a new world out of an old world he knows well, the world of struggle between workers and bosses.
Bruskin, a 40-year veteran of the labor movement, spent his career organizing workers and helping guide innovative local and national union campaigns. Now retired, he’s recently completed his first play, Pray for the Dead—A Musical Tale of Morgues, Moguls and Mutiny.
The play centers around a group of morgue workers in an unnamed country who are facing reduced wages and potential job losses. The villains of the story: the wealthy owners of the local morgue and steel factory, aptly named Doug Graves and Rusty Chrome, and their contemporaries in the top one tenth of 1 percent.
Bruskin’s workers devise a plan to take over and run the funeral home as a co-op. On the side, they drum up business by dispatching corrupt lawmakers to the great by and by.
Along the way, Pray for the Dead features some memorable lines about society’s wealthiest.
“The upper crust, as they say, is just a few crumbs held together by a wad of dough,” sings Trudy Gardone, an homage to Mother Jones.
Trudy’s rhyming couplets about her comrades in the working class also impress:
We who mop the floors and fight the wars,
Who make the steel and cook the meals,
Who bury the dead and make the beds,
Who work the cranes and drive the trains,
Who nurse the sick and lay the bricks,
Who teach the young and shovel the dung…
Playwright Bruskin has been screening his new musical for labor unions and other small audiences. One viewer has tagged it as “Norma Rae meets Sweeney Todd meets Bertolt Brecht.”
The musical has also aired — in condensed form — on labor activist Bill Fletcher’s WPFW radio show Arise! Don’t miss the half-hour YouTube audio clip.
Bruskin hopes to screen the film in more areas and has launched a GoFundMe to raise funds for that effort. Try listening to Pray for the Dead on your next road trip. You may find yourself wanting to make a contribution to bring the show to a city near you.