Awake and Sing! - A Play and a Cast that Just Keep Getting Better

AWAKE AND SING!, the Clifford Odets powerhouse, was first performed at the Odyssey Theatre in 1994-95 where it ran to packed houses for nine months. And here we are in 2015, twenty years later, with the very same play, the same director (Elina de Santos), and three of the original cast (Marilyn Fox, Richard Fancy, and Dennis Madden) – again wowing audiences at the Odyssey. A bittersweet drama about a middle class family struggling to maintain during the depression of the 1930s, the Odets play might seem at first glance to be somewhat dated by today’s standards – but is it really? The four original members of the AWAKE AND SING! production were asked what they thought about the Odets play in today’s world – and if they found that much had changed since they performed the piece in 1995.

 

Awake and Sing - James Morosini and Marilyn Fox - Photo by Sossi



Marilyn Fox portrays the uber-controlling matriarch of the family, at once reprehensible and sympathetic, who tries in the only way she knows how to force the family to survive. In 1995, Richard Fancy played the cynical World War I amputee with designs on matriarch Bessie’s daughter. Currently, he is cast as the matriarch’s brother, wealthy Uncle Morty, who offers and at the same time withholds a dangling economic carrot before the family. Dennis Madden is Schlosser, the building manager, reprising the same role he had in the original. The entire production is still artfully helmed by director Elina de Santos. The interviews delve into the effects of twenty years of experience and life on their views of the Odets play.

 

Awake and Sing - James Morosini and Allan Miller - Photo by Sossi



Do you interpret the play now a little differently than you did 20 years ago? Have your personal experiences affected how you see the play?

De Santos: Yes and no. The world is different, and I am different. Now, the economy is dangerously close to that of the play. We were in a prosperous time in 1994 and 1995. And now, the struggle is tangible and frightening. Understanding how each of the people in the play is fighting for survival and meaning is closer to us. For me, the musicality of the play is more evident. The language is gorgeous, exciting and scintillating. I love it. The nine-character cast all sound different. Bessie, first generation American, her children, second generation, her father and Sam, Russian immigrants, and the building superintendent, a German immigrant. The play has always said deeply personal things to me. My father, born in Spain, was angry like Jacob and spouting Communism; he was a self-proclaimed Socialist. In many ways he was Jacob – only more capable and extremely dominant. My mother was voiceless – more like Hennie than Bessie. My brother was like Morty, part of the system and successful. Perhaps, I see myself in all of them – struggling to survive and to be more than those before me. I’m grateful for the opportunity to revisit AWAKE AND SING! Now, more than ever, it’s about “life in America”

Fox: Bessie still sees things the way she sees them, and I follow how she sees things. Economics play a primary role in the piece, and now I’m more aware of this. People weren’t performng Odets much 20 years ago, so I’m happy we played a part in bringing his work to audiences again. The economics today are perilously close to a lot of what’s in the play. I understood that 20 years ago, but now I’m more aware of how timely this play is.  

Fancy: It just feels different to have a different role. I played Moe twenty years ago; and when we were rehearsing I’d sometimes start to say Moe’s lines. But David Agranov is a very different Moe than I was: David really gets this guy’s being in a box – his opportunities are so closed in so many ways. And now it’s very exciting to see Moe from the point of view of Morty. They are enemies. Moe is outside the system, and Morty is the system.

Madden: Not really. Examining something like this, I could drive myself nuts. I enjoy being with the people in the play. Bessie is such a strong matriarch. She’ll do anything to pull that family through. That’s one of the great roles, and Marilyn is stupendous.

 

Awake and Sing - Richard Fancy and Melissa Paladino - Photo by Sossi



Do you feel that the Odets play is dated? Is the message still valid today?

De Santos:
It’s an enduring play and not at all dated. Somebody came to see it last weekend and said that he’d seen the play many times and never felt that it was so relevant as today. It speaks to people now. It must be done authentically and with a commitment to naturalism without being casual. The play has a very Odetsian vernacular – it sounds like no one else could have written it. AWAKE AND SING! is most alive in performance – it is made for the theater. It can give great insight and personally affect people. It offers great hope for young people who are struggling with debt and finding a way in a very divided economy. It is stunningly hopeful and real.

Fox: I would go to Court and swear on the Bible that it’s not dated. It’s a world-class play and eternally good. Odets is a genius. I think his message is to stop talking and do something to make a better world. Get out on the street and do something. Don’t keep talking about it. It’s a play that’s funny and serious and sexy; it has everything. Everybody has a family that came to this country from somewhere else and had to survive. Above all, it’s an enjoyable evening in the theater.

Fancy: I feel that it’s dated in only one way – it gets slightly polemic toward the end. But Odets is like Charles Dickens. He’s tremendously alive even today. I think about the times. In 1934, there was 25 percent unemployment. The people in this play maintain very precariously, but they do maintain a middle class existence. In some ways it’s like now. Kids are staying home or coming back to live with their mom and dad for economic reasons. In the family in AWAKE AND SING!, there’s a 22-year-old young man and a 26-year-old woman living with their parents – and a boarder who’s a gangster. I think that the most important message we get in this play is that we’re all in this together. Everybody has to find a way to work together. When I look at the political situation now, it looks like we haven’t found that way yet.

Madden: It’s not dated to me; I find it very relevant. Even though some of the slang is different and might be hard for people to understand today, the play still works. Odets wrote the play in 1933, and I feel that the message is still valid today. Even though the economics are in better shape, more middle class people are still struggling. I think people will relate to it now. I’d like younger people to see the play.

 

Awake and Sing - Melissa Paladino and David Agranov - Photo by Sossi



AWAKE AND SING! continues through November 29, 2015 at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA90025. Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. Additional performances are on select Wednesdays at 8 p.m. (10/14 and 11/4/15 only) and Thursdays at 8 p.m. (10/22, 10/29, 11/12, and 11/19/15 only). Tickets are $15-34. $10 tickets are available on 10/14 and 11/4/15. For tickets, call 310-477-2055 or go online at www.odysseytheatre.com.

 

 

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