Awake and Sing!: in brief
The National Asian American Theatre Company delves into the American immigrant experience in a revival of Clifford Odets's 1935 classic about a struggling Jewish family in the Bronx. Stephen Fried directs an all–Asian-American cast.
Awake and Sing!: theater review by Jenna Scherer
They don’t write plays like Awake and Sing! anymore—so earnest, so hopeful, so shamelessly melodramatic it sticks to your tongue. This is the kind of play in which people rise up in their living rooms and shout, “Life should have some dignity!” And they mean it, goddamn it. It’s both the greatest strength and the undoing of Clifford Odets’s canon: Depression-era everymen standing in the dust and kvetching at the stars in language that lands somewhere between my Ashkenazi grandmother and Dashiell Hammett. The effect is deeply moving at least as often as it is laughably old-fashioned.
When you take said play, about a working-class Jewish family trying to eke out a life in the Bronx circa 1933, and cast it entirely with Asian-American actors, whole new layers emerge. That’s the National Asian American Theatre Company’s M.O., and director Stephen Fried has applied it here to mixed effect.
It’s certainly a twist for an Asian actor to remark, “I don’t like Japs so much—sneaky,” in a Noo Yawk accent; and it’s fantastic to see top-notch performers like Sanjit De Silva and Teresa Avia Lim dig into meaty parts that they would, by dint of ethnicity, not normally get to play. But the range of talent on display in the nine-person cast varies widely. While Fried stages memorable one-on-one moments, he’s at a loss when it comes to group scenes, which are frequently rushed and garbled. NAATCO’s Awake and Sing! is a half diamond and half rough, a fascinating mess that Odets would probably have gotten a kick out of.—Theater review by Jenna Scherer
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