Court van Rooten and Zachary Heller in a scene from AWAKE AND SING at Playcrafters of Skippack.

Classic AWAKE AND SING at Playcrafters

by Kelly Thunstrom

Often considered American playwright Clifford Odets’s masterpiece, AWAKE AND SING shows us a few years in the lives of the Bergers, a Jewish family living in the Bronx and fighting for survival during the Great Depression. Guided by director Arnie Finkel, the Playcrafters’ cast effectively compares the sinking feelings of much of the older generation with the promise of the American Dream for the young.

Myron (Neal Newman) and Bessie (Michele Loor Nicolay) live in a New York City apartment with their two children, Hennie and Ralph (Andrea Westby and Zachary Heller), and Bessie’s father Jacob (Court van Rooten). Hennie and Ralph desperately want to get out from under Bessie’s thumb, as she is constantly interfering in their love lives. She even goes so far as to try to set Hennie up with Sam Feinschreiber (Gunter Moeller) and the slimy Moe Axelrod (David Deratzian).  Jacob wants “Ralphie” to follow his dreams, something he himself could not bring himself to do.  When Schlosser (Dennis Christoforetti), the janitor, discovers something that has the potential for turning all their lives upside down, Ralphie realizes it’s now or never.  And based on Moe’s interaction with Bessie’s brother, Uncle Morty (Gary Bullock), the audience sees that Moe isn’t such a slimeball after all.

Court van Rooten and Gary Bullock in a scene from Playcrafters of Skippack's production of AWAKE AND SING.

Court van Rooten and Gary Bullock in a scene from Playcrafters of Skippack’s production of AWAKE AND SING.

AWAKE AND SING features beautifully written scenes that really get to the heart of what the Great Depression was all about.  Most notably, the scenes between van Rooten and Heller tug at the heartstrings, as the older man tries to get Ralph to follow a different path. The contrast between Jacob and Ralph’s sobs and the rest of the family laughing at dinner was visually and audibly striking. Heller and van Rooten together were just generally a joy to watch.

I’m not sure if it’s because Playcrafters is a small venue, but some of the performers seemed a little too loud at times to benefit the play.  Some of the histrionics were distracting, and I think if these were toned down, the full message of AWAKE AND SING would come out loud and clear.

It’s times like these, in 2013, when technology runs rampant, that period pieces are so important. AWAKE AND SING reminds us of a time when people were truly struggling, and Playcrafters does great justice to Odets’ work that shows us this.

by Clifford Odets
Directed by Arnie Finkel
May 23 – June 8, 2013
Playcrafters of Skippack
2011 Store Road
Skippack, PA

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