|There are many reasons to see theatre. My personal favorites: to enlighten and to entertain. I also quite enjoy theatre that makes me feel (in some way) passionately… this includes disgust, anger, love or inspiration. Theatre should provoke feeling; to risk sounding dramatic, an audience leaving in ambivalence is death to a production. After seeing Awake and Sing! at A Noise Within, I am feeling compelled to lengthen my list of reasons.
Awake and Sing! a Clifford Odets play written in 1935, is the story of a Jewish family struggling to survive in the Bronx during the Depression. History lesson: Odets, considered one of the great American playwrights of all time, was a member of the Group Theatre. The company’s philosophy drew from (you may have heard of him) Stanislavski (Mr. “Method Acting”) with members including such names as Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler. If you have taken even one theatre class in your life, these names should ring a bell. Odets is most known for his play Waiting for Lefty which was written after Awake and Sing, but put on stage first, with immediate success. Lefty was about the working class rising up to strike for a better life, which set the stage for giving a voice to the powerless Jews of America in Awake. This show was revived in 1938, 1984, 2006, and again in 2007. In the 2007 revival, it was nominated for numerous Tony’s and won for Best Play Revival. But does this stepchild to Lefty “masterpiece” live up to its reputation?
In a nutshell, Awake and Sing! tells the story of the Bergers, a lower middle class Jewish family trying to hang on during the Depression, all 3 generations together in one apartment. The disappointed and bitter Bessie (Deborah Strang), the mother, rules the household to its extreme detriment with an iron fist. She dominates her entire family including her sheepish husband, Myron (Joel Swetow) and her Leftist/Socialist father, Jacob (Len Lesser), who still finds courage to encourage his grandson with words to be better, “It’s enough for me now I should see your happiness. This is why I tell you—DO! Do what is in your heart and you carry in yourself a revolution. But you should act. Not like me, a man who had golden opportunities but drank a glass of tea instead …. ” She squelches her children’s (Molly Leland as Hennie and Adam Silver as Ralph) hopes and dreams with her own misguided agenda. The wealthy Uncle Morty (Alan Blumenfeld) visits, but doesn’t share his good fortune and the bookie/war veteran, Moe Axelrod (Daniel Reichert) adds to the color (and drama) while renting a room. Oh… it’s not as boring as all that… there is a premarital pregnancy, a cover up marriage, a suicide, a disputed insurance policy and runaway lovers. All this smothered in themes of Capitalism vs. Socialism and following your passion and the American dream.
So… do you spend your hard-earned cash to see this 1930’s piece of American theatre history? For exactly that reason, I say yes. For those of you who value theatre, as an ART, you owe it to yourself and your education to see it if you haven’t… likely Lefty is the only Odets play you have seen. See another. Does it stand as a viable piece of theatre today? Eh… that’s a stretch. Personally, I don’t care much about Capitalism vs. Socialism (although topical) and the payoff for the theme that is much more appealing to me personally, following your passion, was too little too late. The show is long, melodramatic and it drags. I don’t believe this should be blamed on direction (one of my favorites, Andrew Traister) nor the very strong cast. This is a sturdy production of a once earth shattering play which just simply isn’t earth shattering anymore… or possibly even viable as a piece for contemporary audiences for content alone. You have to have other reasons to value this show (like history, education, or an appreciation for the surprising and artful lyricism to Odets’ words) to make it worth the trip and time. If you see theatre for entertainment exclusively, skip it.
“Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust”—Isaiah 26:19
Through May 23
$40 – $44 discount tickets are out there…
234 South Brand Boulevard, Glendale, CA 91204.
Tickets: 818-240-0910 x1
Check website for performance calendar: www.ANoiseWithin.org