February 19: Awake and Sing!

Clifford Odets’ comic drama, Awake and Sing!, widely considered his best play, premiered on Broadway at the Belasco Theater on this date in 1935, in a Group Theater production directed by Harold Clurman. The cast included Luther Adler, Stella Adler, Morris Carnovsky, John Garfield, and Sanford Meisner. Odets’ play tells of the impoverished, three-generation Berger family, living in the Bronx during the Great Depression. In a review of a 2006 revival, Charles Isherwood wrote in the New York Times that “conflict suffuses the stale air with a tension that almost seems to have mottled the walls. Dinner becomes a simmering battle between factions, in which grievances and recriminations are passed around the table along with the salt and pepper.” A Yiddish version of the play was produced by the Federal Theater Project in 1938. The title is from Isaiah 26:19: “Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust.”

“Go out and fight so life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills.” —Jacob (Morris Carnovsky), Awake and Sing!

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Comments (2)

  1. The end quote sounds precisely like what we need in this nation now – an antidote to life being “printed on dollar bills.” Tennessee’s VW factory was a great loss for the UAW and for workers in the U.S. generally, but we can’t just roll over and die. After a good cry, we need to be out there again and make the case of unionization loud and clear – there will be no more American middle class without unions and the union paradigm (in non-union situations).

  2. I’ve seen and read “Awake and Sing “several times, and the dialogue still crackles. I was pleased to get it into “Jewish American Literature: a Norton Anthology”(2001), which I co-edited.

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