The National Asian American Theatre Company recently debuted a new production of the Clifford Odets classic, "Awake and Sing!," featuring a cast made up of Asian American actors. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.
The National Asian American Theatre Company's production of Clifford Odets' classic "Awake And Sing!" confirms two things: Odets' depression-era play still resonates, and with the right guidance, accomplished actors, despite their mismatched ethnicity, can make almost any role sing.
The play centers on the Jewish Berger family from the Bronx. This is clearly not the cast Odets envisioned when he wrote the realistic drama 78 years ago. But NAATCO's mission, as it clearly states, "seeks to affirm timeless values and new insights about old works from unexpected faces." And that is precisely what they've done here.
The actors play it exactly as written, complete with Bronx and Yiddish inflections. And while it may take an adjustment to buy into the casting, the performances are spot on.
Adding to the challenge for these folks is the intimate staging, with the audience surrounding the tiny playing space, seated no more than a few feet away. Director Stephen Fried's fine-tuned production maintains a riveting naturalism. Whether the characters are the central focus, or off to the side just listening, there are no false moves here.
"Awake And Sing!" allows for some truly fine ensemble work. Alok Tewari is quite touching as the Marxist grandfather Jacob. His frustrated grandchildren, played with impassioned conviction by Jon Norman Schneider and Teresa Avia Lim, are trapped under the yoke of their overbearing mother Bessie. Sanjit De Silva is rock solid as Moe Axelrod, the renegade border who helps them to cut their familial bonds. And Mia Katigbak is masterful, evoking Bessie as both a villain and tragic figure.
If Odets' politics seem outdated today, his understanding of American family dynamics is as timely as ever, no matter the ethnic persuasion.