Take a journey back to war years   Contra Costa Times

THE SIGHTS AND sounds of World War II came to Contra Costa College last weekend as Concord playwright Kathy McCarty presented her newest endeavor "Rivets." 
Based on historical accounts of the many women -- Rosie the Riveters -- who worked in the Richmond Shipyards, the fictional musical gives a sweeping overview of the joys and difficulties encountered in a world gone mad. 

Here, women from every social class and race are thrown together in a difficult job. Some are forced to leave their children with family or friends while they work double shifts. Others see the chance to work outside the home as new found independence with a few using it as an opportunity to find a husband. 

The various male workers find themselves at a loss in how to deal with women in overalls with dirt on their faces and tools in their hands. 

McCarty not only follows the various personal stories, she also delves into the disparity in wages between the races, how the black workers had to pay union dues without union benefits, and how, even in Northern California, racial prejudice was alive and well. 

Showing a good sense of balance, McCarty easily blends romantic moments and humor with the heartbreaking news of the war in Europe. 

The music, with lyrics by McCarty and musical score by Mitchell Covington, ranges from blues and jazz to swing, often making it impossible not to tap your toes to the infectious rhythm. A particularly effective number is "Black Out Shuffle" featuring vocals by Jay Lopez and a catchy dance routine performed by the 50-person cast. Other stand-out vocalists include Marissa DeClercq and Matt Davis. 

McCarty refers to "Rivets" as a "musical-in-development." During her brief rehearsal period, she constantly did rewrites and plans on several more before the show's next appearance, currently scheduled for Oct. 9-26 at the SS Red Oak, a ship built by Rosie the Riveters and launched in the Kaiser Richmond Shipyard. 

While the opening could use some refinement (so much going on that it's difficult to follow) and other scenes need some polishing, "Rivets" has much to recommend it. I look forward to where this talented playwright will take this fascinating piece of history.


New musical in the works

"Rivets," a new musical created by Kathy McCarty and Michael Covington, has great potential as a heritage pageant drama, heralding the hardworking women in the shipyards during World War II. While this tale focuses on the true stories of the women who actually worked in the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards, here in California, it really tells the tale of the maturing of the working women workforce around the world.

It champions the women who were called upon when their men enlisted in the war effort and the women were needed to get the jobs done at home. These gutsy, patriotic and driven women stepped up and fought prejudice on every level to do their best to help this nation and others win their wars.

McCarty told me that she began working on this story over four years ago when an elder friend she met in a convalescent care facility began relating to her the personal stories of what it was like to be a female worker in the shipyards, what it was like to be a "Rosie the Riveter" just like the image that became a rallying poster for women workers in the 1940s.

Grasping on to stories and memories that were fast fading from our collective consciousness, McCarthy began carving out a story, in musical style, that would preserve this incredible tale of personal sacrifice and hardship that helped save America.

Having written the story, she was able to enlist Mitchell Covington, who wrote the musical score, very recently, in the process of carving a musical miracle out of an idea, all in just four weeks before the production was scheduled to open. With the help of a lot of friends and incredible multi-ethnic cast, this bright new musical was launched on its maiden voyage, to tie in with the "Rosie the Riveter" memorial ceremonies in Richmond recently.

This is an inspired musical, an upbeat story that tells of the over 125,000 people who came to Richmond to help Henry Kaiser crank out a Victory Ship a week, to help us turn the tide on the foes against America. It pulls at your heart strings as you hear of young, middle-aged and older women who came from all over America, from small rural villages to metropolitan centers, educated and illiterate, all banding as one somewhat unified force to bring the assembly-line process together.

Their final product, the Victory Ships, would help win the war against the Nazi submarines that were sinking millions of tons of supplies, equipment and lives every day. There were severe prejudices handicapping the workforce of black and white and Hispanic workers, all trying to bring down years of social barriers and overcome generations of hatred and fears. It is a beautiful story of numerous lives in the collective whirlpool of humanity ringing in on the time clock, cranking out the work, bringing the ships finally down the "ways" into the bay and into war service reality.

There are really far too many fine actors who each contribute immensely to this work to properly congratulate, but I have to give kudos to the lovely voice and presence of Shawn Creighton; to Angelica Reyes, a young black lead character who touches your heart; to Shawn Bonnington, a love-struck manager; to Matt Davis, who plays a blind musician performer so well (I really thought he was blind); and a powerful Elana Bolds, who makes a statement that makes you cringe, and makes you love it all the same; and finally, Will Southard, who plays many different roles and becomes the prejudicial voice of KGO radio at that time.

There is a lot of tough stuff in this play, many words you may not wish to hear, but neither did the people who actually lived this terrible time in our country's history. This show is a wonderful musical that has a lot to give.

While it is not perfect, "Rivets" is a work in progress, definitely a work with a great potential. McCarty is attempting to find venues for future productions and I will keep you posted. It needs a large stage because there are 45 members of the cast, most of whom can be on stage at any one time. Wow, what a show!

REVIEW: Rivets’ aboard S.S. Red Oak Victory 
By Ken Bullock, Berkeley Daily Planet 
Thursday October 23, 2008 

Going below into the cargo hold of S.S. Red Oak Victory, hearing swing music after the quiet, panoramic sweep of the Bay Area from its decks at night, is to move from the contemplation of thousands of distant lights over water to the close-up ensemble movement and singing of a multiethnic cast of thirty, costumed in wartime (that’s World War II) dress, who present Rivets, an original musical by the Galatean Players Ensemble Theatre, celebrating the Rosie The Riveter legend and touching on the reality of life and work on the Home Front—on site: the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond. Tonight through Sunday afternoon are the final performances. 

With music by Mitchell Covington and book and lyrics by Galatean artistic director Kathryn G. McCarty (who also plays, with brio, a working mother), directed by Clay David, Rivets is midway between a musical and a pageant, with vignettes of the romantic and musical aspirations of different characters sketched in, along with the harsher realities of racism, sexism, uprootedness—and the international conflagration raging abroad—that threaten the ripening of these ongoing desires of ordinary life under those extraordinary circumstances. 

Unlike other staged works set during wartime at home—like Neil Simon’s canny, sometimes acerbic Lost in Yonkers—or books which reflect on that era (humorist Ludwig Bemelman’s surprisingly vivid Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and Dirty Eddie come to mind), Rivets gets its focus from a sense of the masses of people from all over a continent thrown together to turn out warships and transports at an unprecented rate and volume (the S.S. Red Oak Victory, a cargo ship commissioned on Dec. 5, 1944, after 87 days, with 40 miles of welded seams and 5,624 rivets, just one case in point)—and the comraderie and clashes that spring up between folks who had never socialized with, even never seen, the likes of each other before. 

The big cast is up to the challenge, their great group moment coming on an evening’s spree the night before some of the boys ship out to the Pacific, when a romantic vocal number by Peggy Rutledge (Leah Tandberg)—daughter to McCarty’s character, Grace—is followed by Scatter Patter (Jay Lino) hitting the stage all duded up, jiving over a tune, "Black Out Shuffle"  while the rest deftly shuffle, twirl and hop to the sounds, only to be broken up by a real blackout. 

Rivets is underpinned by a sense of the treadmill repetition and immediacy of the work, of ersatz, urgency, a blur of faces—a little bit like WPA murals, The March of Time newsreels, Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy or Soviet film and theater, all of a decade or so before—but somewhat sentimentalized. Its more delineated characters (a blind saxophonist, hired by a radio station, with a black girlfriend who dreams of becoming a singer; a soldier shipping out, intent on marrying his grammar school crush, a nurse whose sister disapproves) are like bubbles on the surface of the tidal flow. 

The only appearance of Rosie The Riveter is two actresses (Tara Roach and Rebecca Lenk) playing the legendary role as war bond publicity models, taking off furs that slake the shipyard cold to pose for coverage, while spouting slogans that make the working women groan—one of the show’s best moments. 

The radio announcer who introduced the show as “Living History” closed it last Friday night after curtain call by introducing two surviving Rosies in the audience, one who’d worked in the Sausalito shipyards—presumably Marin Ship—where my father’s mother cooked for the workers 65 years ago. 

 Review: 'Rosie' Story gets beautiful treatment
By Pat Craig of the Contra Costa Times

"Rivets," a challenging and ambitious musical saga of women war workers 
and life on the World War II home front, premiered in a workshop 
production Thursday at San Pablo's Contra Costa College.

 Written by Kathryn G. McCarty, with music by Mitchell Covington the play is set in various locations around the Bay Area, but primarily the Kaiser shipyards in the Richmond area that turned out liberty ships at a breakneck pace throughout the early '40s.

It's the story of Rosie the Riveter -- women who were employed in the  shipyards, doing "men's work" because the men were at war. It's a tumultuous tale of the enormous social changes and a mass migration to the Bay Area from throughout the country for the lucrative war jobs.

And, although the Rosies were ultimately successful, the transition was tough, with racial attitudes imported by the new arrivals to the East Bay, sexual stereotypes held fast by some of the men and women venturing into uncharted territory, and an enormous uncertainty of not only how the war will change the world, but how America will be radically altered by the new roles for people.

McCarty tells a sweeping story, beautifully staged by Clay David, who has managed the near-impossible task of making a cast of 50 not only look interesting on the stage, but drive the story as they moved across the representational shipyard set.

This weekend's performances are billed as workshops, and, indeed, this is the first time the play has been performed for an audience, and the cast, of students and people from the general public, rose to the occasion with a well wrought and nicely paced production.        

In the future (and there will be several other stagings of the show, leading to a production aboard the Liberty Shop, Live Oak Victory in Richmond in October), McCarty may want to focus the show on fewer subplots, which would sharpen the impact of the piece and ultimately tell a more satisfying story by allowing some of the characters to emerge from the musical more fully developed. Perhaps the strongest feature of "Rivets" is the decision to leave the story in its time, with no bow to contemporary sensibilities. While this may be harsh in places, it also presents an accurate picture of attitudes of the time, and makes the fact all these wildly different people were able to come together and produce ships at record speed. It also makes the patriotism and single-minded attention to the war effort all the more poignant.