Awake and Sing! The play was initially produced by The Group Theatre in It concerns the impoverished Berger family, who all live under one roof, and their conflicts as the parents scheme to manipulate their children's relationships to their own ends, while their children strive for their own dreams. The audience is introduced to a unique family. The matriarch of the family, Bessie, had high hopes and dreams for her family; however, despite her hopefulness, her largest fear is that her family will lose their home and all their possessions. This fear stems from a woman down the street who had this exact thing happen to her.
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Life begins tomorrow for the anxious souls inhabiting an overstuffed Bronx apartment in Clifford Odets's "Awake and Sing! Dreams and disappointments, hopes and fears, encouraging words and bitter put-downs clash by day and night in Odets's turbulent comedy-drama about a Jewish family struggling to stay afloat in the 's.
Conflict suffuses the stale air with a tension that almost seems to have mottled the walls. Dinner becomes a simmering battle between factions, in which grievances and recriminations are passed around the table along with the salt and pepper. In the stirring revival that opened last night at the Belasco Theater, where "Awake and Sing! Ralph Berger Pablo Schreiber , toiling away at 22 as a clerk for a measly salary, comes closest to putting it in so many words, articulating a query that Odets posed in much of his work, occasionally with a defiantly American bluntness: What's life for, anyway?
The answers proposed and debated in this vigorous, still pungently funny play sometimes emit the hissing sound of old radio transmissions. Odets was writing at the height of the Depression, when economic disorder had led to a sudden, urgent questioning of some fundamental tenets of American society. But his impassioned desire to proselytize for a better future didn't obscure his sensitivity to the everyday despair that tinted American lives long before the stock market crashed, or the humble forms of solace available even to a guy without a dollar to his name, like the rush of joy in his heart at the gleam in his girl's eye.
The messy give and take between ideologies and realities, and between hard fact and exuberant feeling, still thrums in "Awake and Sing! All of Mr. Sher's skilled performers manage to locate the dreaming centers of their characters, buried beneath layers of political sloganeering, everyday gripes or street slang. And even when the focus blurs, Odets's zesty dialogue, in which jazzy period colloquialisms are slung around like punches at a prizefight, is a joy to hear.
Nobody slings it with more panache than Mark Ruffalo, the soulful movie and stage actor making his Broadway debut here. Or as Moe memorably puts it, "I got a yen for her, and I don't mean a Chinee coin. Hennie, played with a wounded transparency by Lauren Ambrose of "Six Feet Under" , takes a tough line in her talk too, sneering at Moe, "For two cents I'd spit in your eye.
So it goes chez Berger, where verbal fusillades put up forbidding invisible walls to establish some privacy in the clammy atmosphere of an apartment bulging at the seams. Ruffalo and Ms. Ambrose imbue the testy interplay between these desperate youngsters with an inward intensity that rises to a charged climax in the play's final moments. As played with captivating flintiness by Ms. Wanamaker, Bessie is both repellent and moving in her blindness to the blight her overbearing love spreads through the apartment.
Every so often we are given a glimpse of the frightened mouse inside this terrier of a woman. Some of the play's tenderest exchanges are those in which Jacob, played with gruff simplicity by Mr. Gazzara, urges Ralph to resist his mother's imprecations to toe the family line and put away dreams of bettering himself. Schreiber's height is used as an effective symbol: Ralph always looks as if he's about to bump his head on a doorway, much as his ambitions keep bumping up against a want of opportunity.
When Ralph folds himself up at his grandfather's feet, it's the only time this aching character looks at home. Writing for his colleagues in the Group Theater, Odets created an ensemble work in which there isn't a single vaguely defined role. The original cast of "Awake and Sing! What is sometimes absent from Mr. Sher's production, unfortunately, is an enveloping sense of unity among the ensemble, the fluid transmission of feeling between performers that could transform this revival from the fine to the unforgettable by imbuing it with a sustained Chekhovian tone.
It doesn't help that the naturalistic set by Michael Yeargan begins to do a disappearing act midway through the second act. The symbolic point is well taken: as the family unit begins to disintegrate, the Bergers become more exposed, as poor Bessie has feared, to the cold winds of economic uncertainty and existential angst. But it's still a distraction, and it diffuses the energy onstage. Nor do Mr. Sher and his actors always finesse the more effusively rhetorical passages in the play, which can strike the contemporary ear as corny in their lyricism or forthright idealism.
Ralph's climactic peroration is a case in point. But small infelicities don't smudge the overall sharpness of this picture of life being lived for all it's worth, despite the grinding oppressions of subsisting on the knife edge of poverty. The sweep of American history ran roughshod over some of the ideals Odets and other artists championed in the 's.
But ideals are not old newspapers, withering into dust. Even tattered, they endure. And as this moving revival reminds us, the song of human aspiration is always sweet to hear. At the Belasco Theater, West 44th Street, Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
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Defying Poverty's Everyday Despair in Odets's 'Awake and Sing!'
Life begins tomorrow for the anxious souls inhabiting an overstuffed Bronx apartment in Clifford Odets's "Awake and Sing! Dreams and disappointments, hopes and fears, encouraging words and bitter put-downs clash by day and night in Odets's turbulent comedy-drama about a Jewish family struggling to stay afloat in the 's. Conflict suffuses the stale air with a tension that almost seems to have mottled the walls. Dinner becomes a simmering battle between factions, in which grievances and recriminations are passed around the table along with the salt and pepper. In the stirring revival that opened last night at the Belasco Theater, where "Awake and Sing! Ralph Berger Pablo Schreiber , toiling away at 22 as a clerk for a measly salary, comes closest to putting it in so many words, articulating a query that Odets posed in much of his work, occasionally with a defiantly American bluntness: What's life for, anyway? The answers proposed and debated in this vigorous, still pungently funny play sometimes emit the hissing sound of old radio transmissions.
Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing!- Where Dream and Disillusion Meet
But whether the drama about a Jewish family struggling in the Bronx to survive the Depression lives up to its myth as a lost masterpiece is open to question. The Bronx setting of working-class immigrants in Awake and Sing! It is that bruised place of the heart where the American Dream and disillusion meet in the land of opportunity and abundance. Disappointed hopes are oxygen to her. Her restless son Ralph, encouraged by his socialist grandfather, yearns to escape the airless domestic atmosphere. More crucially for us, Odets described himself as a theater man—as opposed to a literary man—and his unaffected stage poetry, his direct pull on the emotions and unembarrassed open heart, were a profound influence on the young Tennessee Williams.
Awake and Sing!
Join StageAgent today and unlock amazing theatre resources and opportunities. Research Playwrights, Librettists, Composers and Lyricists. Browse Theatre Writers. Bessie wants the family to survive, Jacob wants the working man to overthrow his capitalists overlords, Hennie wants to find happiness, and Ralph wants to be free of his family to make a life for himself. Their hopes, fears, dreams, and disappointments clash day and night, as each struggles for a better tomorrow—or did they already lose their shot before they even began? Since its iconic debut by members of the Group Theatre in , Awake and Sing! View All Characters in Awake and Sing!
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When Awake and Sing! Odets' play centers on the Bergers, a Bronx Jewish family that is struggling to make it through the Depression. The family's matriarch, Bessie, is determined to keep them all afloat. Despite the fact that her home is already overcrowded with relatives — her husband, Myron, her two children, year-old Ralph and year-old Hennie, and her father, Jacob — Bessie takes in a boarder, Moe, to help with expenses. There are two momentous events that advance the plot: the birth of a child and a suicide.