If you are like me, you mainly know Jack London from his nature fiction, like The Call of The Wild or White Fang. The Iron Heel, playing in various venues in New York City (link) introduces us to a side of Jack London, which is overlooked. Jack London was a socialist and active in the party at the beginning of the 1900s. The Iron Heel is a work of future fiction he wrote in 1908. It deals less with science and technological change than with social change, and the promise of a socialist system of government that he was sure would come about.
In adapting the work for the stage, Edward Einhorn (also the director) pulls the social and economic threads out of the story and focuses on those. It is the story of a socialist hero, as told through the found autobiography of his wife. The hero, Ernest Everhard, is played by Charles Ouda, a Kenyan born actor whose obvious difference in race and dialect mimics Ernest’s difference in class. Ernest was of the working class, and in The Iron Heel he rebels against the Capitalist class in general, the oligarchs and plutocracy in particular.
Ernest’s wife, well played by Victoria Rulle, was born into the Capitalist class but Ernest brings her and her social circle to the revolutionary cause. He does this by way of an explanation of fairness and social responsability. It is a story that foretells of a class work between the owners of production and the laborers. Written before the World Wars and introduction of communism, it is an optimistic look at a future socialist nirvana, albeit one that takes 300 years of struggle to attain.
To flesh out the story (and to bring the audience along), the show also includes a number of period socialist / unionist songs from the time period. It is a surprisingly effective means to sweep us up into the moment.
The Iron Heel is presented as a reenactment of the autobiography, quite far in a future; a future which we know does not come about. This would be a rather dry piece if it were not for the parallels between London’s time and ours. The struggles are a bit different, but the Jack London predicted the rise of the 1%. The echoes of that era are too strong for anyone to miss.
The Iron Heel is a fascinating story – not always captivating, but always interesting. And I was impressed by how moved much of the audience was – old lefties and younger millennials finding a common bond in a story and songs over 100 years old. It is a fun night.
The Iron Heel | Writer: Jack London / Adapter: Edward Einhorn | Director: Edward Einhorn | Cast: Craig Anderson, Kevin Argus, Charles J. Ouda, Yvonne Roen, Victoria Rulle, Trav SD | website