From Awake and Sing Director's Notes
About a week ago, while preparing for rehearsal at a favorite haunt just down the road, I was wrestling with a particularly enigmatic storytelling problem when Joe McGrath appeared alongside my table. Taking in my open script, my scribbled notes, and my pained expression, he quipped, “It’s about family,” and shrugged.
So true. Odets’ raw masterpiece Awake and Sing is about a Jewish working-class family with middle class aspirations. Written out of frustration and an examination of his own values and family, Awake and Sing presented a unique and somewhat autobiographical view of 1930’s life. “I was stuffed in a room," Odets later told the New York World Telegram, ”waiting for Luther Adler to perish so I might yet get a chance at playing his part in Success Story." Odets’ company, the influential Group Theater, helped introduce “messy kitchen realism” and the great Stanislavski’s teachings to a wildly receptive Broadway stage.
In Awake and Sing, young Ralph Berger, “a boy with a clean spirit,” struggles for life amidst a line of worn acolytes of the American Dream. “I wanna make up my own mind about things...be something,” he declares early on in the play. The mother (and self-proclaimed father) of the family, Bessie, harangues him and his sister, Hennie, about being successful. “It’s about respect,” she preaches, yet she is a pragmatist who knows that money talks. One biographer described Ralph’s relationship with Bessie as the embodiment of Odets’ relationship with his father, who once expressed his opinion of his son’s career by smashing his typewriter.
Ralph is surrounded by heartbroken souls waiting for some big payout by Destiny, who also understand their plight. “The day I began losing my hair I just knew I was destined to be a failure in life,” says his perpetually optimistic father, “and when I grew bald I was!” His grandfather, Jacob, the conscience of the family, quotes Marxist texts with fire, but grieves his lost opportunities. “A man who had golden opportunities but drank instead a glass tea.”
Yet there are glimmers of hope amidst the Berger family. The forbidden romance of Hennie and Moe is driven by a shared yen for something outside their bleak existence. “Paradise,” Moe calls Hennie, as he dreams of a beautiful place where oranges “fall right in my mouth.”
Awake and Sing plays like the blues, with all of the beauty, complexity and heartache of life. This musicality of language, character and subject matter is what makes Awake and Sing a masterpiece. It’s about family.
Acknowledgement of the production
One of Rogue’s finest productions ever!
The atmosphere created by the costumes, stage set and lighting
equal the impact of the actors in this exceptional production!
—Chuck Graham, Reviewer