My Great Grandmother, Pearl Kirschner, was 35 when Awake and Sing play was produced in 1935. She lived in the Bronx. Her husband, Philip, was a button salesman in the garment district in Manhattan. They lived in a two bedroom apartment on Sedgwick Avenue -- in the West Bronx--- the other side from the Bergers. It was a 5 story walk up building very similar to the one in the play. They lived in the same apartment in 30 years later when I was born! And they lived there another 20 years.
When my Dad was visiting a few weeks ago we sat on my porch and he read the whole play out loud for me.
I was very excited when Jason asked me to fill in for Kimberly and I am thrilled to be working on this play.
I've been teaching acting for a long time at Studio and for a while I've been kind of obsessed with Stella Adler. If you haven't read her books on the great playwrights of her day, I highly recommend them. She has a way of capturing the essence of what each of these writers was after. And she does some incredible scene and character analysis.
To have the opportunity to work on a play developed by the Group Theatre is a special treat. For the Studio Conservatory teachers ODETS is like a God... we do scenes from Golden Boy and Waiting for Lefty almost every semester. We don't use Awake and Sing so much - mostly because there aren't so many 2 person scenes for acting class. But I'm very familiar with Odets his language and his themes. And the realism of the Group is kind of my home base -- it's what we teach at Studio.
I have to say there are some major challenges in this project and they have mostly to do with the acting and directing.
The biggest challenge will be to build an ensemble who are all performing in the same realistic acting style.
The next will be to get the scenes, characters, and business right in a three act play with just 3 weeks of rehearsal.
The next is to make the play feel as contemporary and of the moment today as it did when it was first presented. In its day it was completely OF THE MOMENT. Today it mustn't feel like a period piece.
Those are pretty big challenges.
I feel compelled to try because the play is very special and deserves our attention.
Odets' language crackles with life and color.
He also wrote scenes that are tour-de-force.
Every character has a back story and multiple levels and an arc.
And I think the moral of the story, the theme of the story, is also profound and simple. We're all reasonably intelligent. We're all hemmed in. We're not free. We're confined. The more confined we are the more miserable we can become and the more we lash out, seek control, seek to disappear, seek escape...
Ralph, our hero, has a kind of epiphany at the end. In the midst of the worst economic crisis America had ever seen -- in the midst of misery and pain...
He's going to share theinsurance money, stay at home, disavow marriage, read his grandfather's books, get his colleagues together to fight for better work conditions... he's going to be a community organizer, a family man... it's the GROUP that counts.
It's really like his feelings about the Group Theatre... some stayed, some left... some were loyal and pitched in. The Group is an ideal that requires sacrifice.
In many ways this play is like The Glass Menagerie - written ten years later...
Hennie and Moe run escape (like Tom) but our hero is a hero - not an anti-hero... (like Tom). Ralph stays.
Keeping that in mind: we need to help the actors understand how they support that theme. We have to provide them with costumes and props that help them support that theme.
We are NOT going to have walls that fly out... it's not a play about disappearing walls - but about tiny human epiphanies that happen every day. About the sacrifices we make every day for the Group.