“Awake and Sing” first opened in 1935 and was the production that brought Clifford Odets to the forefront of the attention of the theater going public at that time and solidified his position as a major playwright.
By Carol Edger Germain
It has been revived and replayed many times, including a nine-month run 20 years ago at the same theater where it is currently appearing, the Odyssey in West L.A. Director Elina de Santos has years of experience with the play and that is evident by the way she brought these veteran actors together in this production.
This drama revolves around a three-generation Jewish family trying to navigate the complicated times and troubles of the Depression in a shared, cramped 3 bedroom apartment in the Bronx, struggling to maintain their family relationships as well as their individual goals. The loving but domineering matriarch of the family, Bessie (perfectly played by Marilyn Fox) knows what’s “right,” both for society as well as each member of her family, and doesn’t hesitate to connive, control, demand, and even lie for the “good of the family,” and to see that they all behave as they should. That may sound harsh, and those are the facts, but she is fun, respectable, and loving, which makes the family accepting, to a certain extent, of her dictatorial persona. Daughter Hennie (Melissa Paladino, another excellent casting choice) is having thoughts, and taking some actions, contrary to the accepted role for a girl her age in those times, but an unplanned pregnancy brings her quickly under Bessie’s direction regarding what she needs to do about it. Mild, bumbling dad Myron (Robert Lesser) meanders through the family’s comings and goings, focusing on food and always willing to to “fill in the blanks” with what is needed from him, all the while maintaining hope of getting lucky financially with various drawings, lotteries and sweepstakes. My favorite in the family by far was Grandfather Jacob (charmingly played by Allen Miller), a Marxist who escapes into his books and Enrico Caruso records. By the end of the play I still loved and respected him, although my opinion of some of the others changed. Uncle Morty (grandiosely played by Richard Fancy) is a wealthy businessman who is idolized by most of the famly and who shares a bit of his wealth to keep them afloat and grandson Ralph (James Morosini) is coming of age with some hopeful ideals but is stifled by circumstances. Gary Patent as Sam Feinschriber (Bessie’s choice as a suitable husband for Hennie) does a fine job of portraying a recent Jewish immigrant without turning it into a caricature, my heart was breaking for him by the end of the story. Dennis Madden’s appearances as the burly building janitor, Schlosser, are welcome, and although his part is small we get a sense of his somewhat dismal, harried existence, and wish better times for him. Rounding out the case in a huge, intense way is Mo Axlerod (David Agranov – again, perfectly cast and played), a WWI veteran who lost a leg in combat, a wheeler-dealer always involved in some financial scheme. I developed a love-hate relationship with him as more of the flaws and gems of his personality were revealed.
A great glimpse into the East Coast immigrant experience of 1930’s/Depression era USA. Very much worth seeing. Not only will you enjoy this play, but I’m sure you’ll be looking forward to the next production by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. I’ve seen a number of productions at this theater, and ALL have been excellent and well worth “going West” for, especially since the theater is easy to get to, has parking available, and is in a non-commercial district so you don’t have to deal with the usual “west side” traffic. Trust me, I don’t often go “west of LaBrea,” there’s plenty of entertainment in Pasadena, Burbank, downtown and Hollywood, but the Odyssey productions are a major treat every time. Also, they usually have discount tickets available on Goldstar.com.
Awake and Sing!
Set Design – Pete Hickok. Lighting Design – Leigh Allen. Sound Design – Christopher Moscatiello. Costume Design – Kim DeShazo and props are by Katherine S. Hunt. The assistant directors are Tovya Jacobs and Tracey Silver, and Ron Sossi and Beth Hogan produce for Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025
• Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., through Nov. 29. Additional weeknight performances are scheduled on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Oct. 14 and Nov. 4, and on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on Oct. 8, Oct. 22, Oct. 29, Nov. 12 and Nov. 19. Three post-performance discussions will take place on Oct. 10, Oct. 24 and Nov. 4 and are included in the ticket price.
Tickets are $34 on Saturdays and Sundays; $30 on Fridays; and $25 on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with$20 tickets available for seniors and $15 tickets for students and members of SAG/AFTRA/AEA. There will be three “Tix for $10” performances on Friday, Oct. 2; Wednesday, Oct. 14; and Wednesday, Nov. 4. The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.
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