Some plays never date; instead the viewer grows up with them, shifting sympathy from one character to another as he or she comes to resemble one more than the other. A drama that sums up many real-life struggles, Clifford Odets’s still-subversive 1934 masterwork Awake and Sing! presents us with a Depression-era family for whom survival counts more than integrity, and love is measured in sacrifice and guilt. With a raw lyricism and compassion, Odets both indicts and embraces this powerfully observed Bronx clan. So do we.
The 22-year-old son Ralph must deal with a scheming, burnt-out mother, impotent father, venal uncle, and entrapping sister, but he also has his grandfather, Jacob, to keep him clean. An uncompromising Marxist who denies that “life is printed on dollar bills,” Jacob urges Ralph to honor his own ideals. In Ralph’s rough rebuff of his mother–“If life made you this way, it’s wrong”–lies all the hopeful anger of the young, furious at how life hardens those they love and eager to break free themselves.
Peter Hobert’s staging for Raven Theatre plunges us into the play like so many delighted eavesdroppers. His nine superb actors look, sound, move, and react to within an inch of actuality. Always on target are Laura T. Fisher, sad and smothering as selfish Bessie; Jordan Teplitz’s broken dreamer of a grandfather; Carri Levinson, poignant as the sister who repeats her mother’s mistakes; and Davidson Cole as a solid, down-to-earth Ralph, never caught in the act of acting. Most moving is Jeff Still, scrappy, cynical, and real as the wounded veteran who helps Ralph find his dream.