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Review: AWAKE AND SING!- An Intense Evening's Journey into Guilt & Emotional Abuse

AWAKE AND SING!/by Clifford Odets/directed by Elina de Santos/Odyssey Theatre/thru November 29, 2015

The 20th anniversary revival of the Odyssey production of Clifford Odets' classic AWAKE AND SING! receives a raw and reverential mounting. As directed by Elina de Santos, most characters in this two-hour-and-fifteen-minute three-act portray their roles in bold black-and-whites with little shades of grey in between. Bessie, the matriarch of the Berger household, wields guilt as her primary lethal weapon of control over her father Jacob, her son Ralph, her daughter Hennie, and her browbeaten husband Myron. The only one Bessie shows any niceties to would be her brother Uncle Morty who happens to matter-of-factly throw some of his riches her way. As Marilyn Fox intensely embodies Bessie, this is not a woman, no, not a person you want to mess with; not if you want to leave with your balls still attached. Fox' Bessie emasculates every male in her family (save Uncle Morty) and schemes to get "in the family way" Hennie hitched to any man with an income and a pulse.

As the adult, still-unmarried children still living under Bessie's roof, Melissa Paladino as Hennie and James Morosini as Ralph have the more sympathetic parts in this drama. Both Paladino and Morosini get plenty of opportunity to show their respective character's range of emotions.

Allan Miller wonderfully essays Jacob, Bessie's father, the sole voice of compassion in this piece. Not possible to describe Jacob as the Berger patriarch, as no male rules over Bessie.

Another intriguing individual of AWAKE AND SING! would be Uncle Morty, given life by Richard Fancy's layered depiction. Fancy's Uncle Morty spouts word of wisdom and solid advice, then unintentionally reveals his real stripes of hoodwinking expertise.

David Agranov skillfully plays up the conman aspect of his Moe Axelrod, the hustler, boarder and unsuccessful suitor of Hennie.

Robert Lesser succeeds in demonstrating the pathetic, castrated Myron.

Gary Patent effortlessly handles his Sam Feinschriber's sad breakdown most realistically. Sam's the clueless suitor of Hennie whom Bessie wrangles to marry her pregnant daughter.

Bessie's excuses in her denial of Hennie's admission of actual fatherhood; as well as; Bessie's actions involving Jacob's Caruso records --just all incredibly brutal and hateful.

Hard to root for anyone in AWAKE AND SING! when the deck seems so stacked against the sympathetic characters.

Kudos to set designer Pete Hickok's detailed lower-class 1930's Bronx apartment.

While it must have been shocking when Odets originally wrote AWAKE AND SING! eighty years ago, how sad to be reminded that racial prejudices of a lower-middle-class, Jewish Bronx family in 1934 still exist today.

From This Author - Gil Kaan

      Gil Kaan, a former Managing Editor of the now-defunct Genre magazine, has had the privilege of photographing and interviewing some major divas of film, television, and stage in... (read more about this author)

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