When Awake and Sing! was first produced in 1935, playwright Clifford Odets was speaking to issues relevant to his time: economic hardship, morality, family stability, and the distance between dreams and reality. Now, at the close of its 2014 season, the Olney Theatre Center has opened an Awake and Sing!that addresses those same issues with clarity and vision 80 years after Odets wrote it.
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, 22-year-old Ralph and 26-year-old Hennie, and her father, Jacob — Bessie takes in a boarder, Moe, to help with expenses.
TALKIN' BROADWAY• OCTOBER 2, 2014 • BY SUSAN BERLIN
The plays of Clifford Odets (1906-63) were sensational successes in the 1930s for bringing the lived experience of working-class New York Jews to the stage. After falling out of fashion, his plays are being rediscovered—and Olney Theatre Center's production of Awake and Sing! proves that they can be as vital as ever, thanks to Serge Seiden's sensitive direction and some memorable performances.
REVIEW: Odets still in full voice with 'Awake and Sing!' at Olney Theatre Center
WASHINGTON POST• OCTOBER 3, 2014 • BY NELSON PRESSLEY
Could Arthur Miller have written “Death of a Salesman” if Clifford Odets hadn’t come out first with “Awake and Sing!”? Maybe: In the 1930s, the Depression-rattled American theater churned with basic questions about economic equality.
Still, the link between Miller’s 1949 masterpiece and Odets’s impassioned 1935 drama feels electric in the third act of the Olney Theatre Center’s gripping revival of “Awake!”
“Life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills,” goes the play’s famous refrain, and as the pressures mount on the Berger family — three generations stuffed in one small Bronx apartment — you can see how Willy Loman’s tragedy might have begun to take shape in Miller’s mind.
Olney Theatre Center is a proud partner of Barrie School.
Olney Theatre Center is a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization. All programs are made possible by support from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County; the Maryland State Department of Education; and the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts.