I Got the Blues

Here’s a blast from the past. Peter Hobert, a recent DePaul graduate, was persistent–and lucky–enough to find Clifford Odets’s handwritten original draft of what became Awake and Sing!, the 1935 classic, in the New York Public Library. Written in 1932, I Got the Blues proved too depressing to produce even in the Depression: Group Theatre cofounder Harold Clurman called it “almost masochistically pessimistic.” Fortunately Hobert is now directing his find–a world premiere in a university student production–shedding new light on the early Odets. Fiercer, more personal, and more Jewish than Awake and Sing!, Odets’s unpublished draft stacks the cards against the Bergers, a hard family mired in hard times. By the end nobody but Ralph, the author’s surrogate, finds happiness–and he escapes only because his mother’s efforts to swindle him out of a legacy from his all-sacrificing grandfather are thwarted. What’s constant in both plays is the climate of fear, greed, and hate that infects the family, especially matriarch Stella. Fortunately there’s nothing academic about Hobert’s stirring restoration except its origin.

Kristin Deichmann gives Stella a harpy’s fury, as self-pity turns toxic; Mark Morrow doggedly delivers Ralph’s rebellion; and, in a role for which he’s way too young, Matthew Carter endows the grandfather–a prophet without honor–with a ton of tough love. I Got the Blues should appeal to others besides Odets’s adepts: a neglected semiclassic has finally hit the boards. Victory Gardens Theater, second-floor studio, 2257 N. Lincoln, 773-871-3000. Through May 3: Wednesdays-Fridays, 7:30 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Sundays, 2 PM. $10. Discussions follow the shows on Thursday, April 23, and Sunday, April 26.

–Lawrence Bommer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): theater still by Lara Goetsch.