Somewhat of a museum piece, Awake and Sing! is an engrossing Depression-era, kitchen-sink drama written by American playwright Clifford Odets. Initially produced by The Group Theatre in 1935, the Bronx-set, Jewish family drama has been dusted off and faithfully staged by A Noise Within, and is currently playing in repertory with Much Ado About Nothing and The Playboy of the Western World.
Clifford Odets”™ poetic study of an impoverished Jewish family living in the Bronx has been described as a play that established many dialogue patterns that subsequent American playwrights adopted thereafter. Against the backdrop of the great Depression, so tangibly depicted as a time of lack and hopelessness, we observe the domestic conflicts of the Berger family as the parents scheme to manipulate their adult children”™s relationships to their own ends, while the son and daughter strive to realize their own dreams.
Right from the outset, young Ralph Berger (Adam Silver) nervously voices his aspirations. Countering the negativity of his father Myron (played by Joel Swetow) – “People ain”™t the same. The whole world is changing right before our eyes,” – Ralph dares to articulate his ambition to be successful, claiming, “I wanna make up my own mind about things – make something of myself.”
But within this oppressive household, where everyone knows each other”™s business and speak their minds with brutal ferocity, sometimes to the point of yelling in each other”™s faces, it proves difficult for the youngsters to forge an optimistic future. Yet there is also a charming and endearing quality to the power struggles and heated discussion of family matters.
Eventually the simmering tensions build to a crescendo during Act II, when a tragic turn of events rocks the entire household, leaving us to wonder where this story is heading.
This production features veteran actor Len Lesser (Jacob), who is best known to contemporary audiences as Seinfeld”™s “Uncle Leo.” His is a realistic, toned-down performance that amps up the pathos over broad comedy.
One fascinating character, whose motives we never quite predict, is Moe Axelrod (Daniel Reichert) a cynical war veteran and friend of the family who eventually boards with the Bergers. He”™s as tough as nails, spouting some hard-boiled, street-smart dialogue, yet he comes across as a fleshed-out and real character. It”™s Moe”™s canny intervention that slyly pulls the rug out from under the matriarch (Deborah Strang) Bessie Berger”™s deceitful and destructive scheme to control her children”™s future.
Happily, the play concludes with great promise for the younger generation. As Odets himself wrote, “All of the characters in Awake and Sing! share a fundamental activity: a struggle for life amidst petty conditons.”
Alongside highly regarded ANW Resident Artists Deborah Strang and Joel Swetow (as Myron Berger), the play also features Alan Blumenfeld (Uncle Morty), Molly Leland (Hennie Berger), David Lengel (Sam Feinschreiber) and Alan Waserman (Schlosser).
“Odets captures the essence of the human spirit – the tragic and the comic – displayed in a Jewish family in the Bronx fighting to keep their heads above water at the height of the Depression,” says Director Andrew J. Traister, who notes that Odets has been dubbed the American Chekhov. “Families do whatever they can to survive in tough times, regardless of their ethnic background. There is a depth to this family”™s love during trying times that may not be near the surface of their emotions. As we get to know this family over the course of a year, we discover the vagaries of their life, the choices, often sad, sometimes comic, that propel an existence filled with many varied endings.”
Friday, April 23, 8 pm
Saturday, April 24, 2 pm
Saturday, April 24, 8 pm
Thursday, May 6, 8 pm
Friday, May 7, 8 pm
Saturday, May 8, 2 pm
Saturday, May 8, 8 pm
Sunday, May 23, 2 pm
Sunday, May 23, 7 pm
A Noise Within
234 South Brand Blvd.,
Glendale, CA 91204
$44 (Friday and Saturday evenings, Sunday matinees);
$40 (Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, Saturday matinees);
Group rates and special rates for school groups available
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Review by Pauline Adamek