Great Moments in New York Theater: Awake and Sing!
Happily, when LCT did revive this (probably my favourite of his plays), it won the Tony Award for best revival, hopefully giving the theatrical community an idea that Mr Odets’ work is still a valuable part of the artistic community and, hopefully, inspiring more people to investigate his work.
I don’t want to get into a dissertation about Odets’ work because, after all, I’m not a theatrical historian; I would probably bore with my comments (or exhibit ignorance.. I’m not sure which I fear more). What I want to say is this: I had, until this production, never seen an Odets play onstage; I had only read his words during my college days. Nobody in college or in small theaters in the Dallas Fort Worth area every produced Odets. Since our arrival in New York, the only Odets play to be revived had been The Flowering Peach, starring Eli Wallach (who I believe to be the greatest American actor currently living) and Anne Jackson. Those were particularly lean times for Pat and I and, while the National Actors Theater production was on our radar, we simply did not have the money to see it before it closed after 41 performances. So I waited… I waited twelve years for another Odets play to land on Broadway.
It was worth the wait.
I love play sets. I, especially, love when the set of a play is one set. When there isn’t a lot of scene change work to make demands on the technical crew, the actors have the luxury (and the audience, for that matter) of allowing the text and the action to unfold before you. Lights up on scene one, lights down on scene one; lights up on scene two, lights down on scene two. The action moves, steadily, forward on that wonderful one set. Also, when a play demands only one set, the designer has the opportunity to create a world that sits down and stays there. The only thing missing is, literally, that fourth wall. Think of the wonderful experiences you have had watching characters through that fourth wall! Brighton Beach Memoirs. The Philadelphia Story. The Little Foxes. Burn This. Time Stands Still. A Streetcar Named Desire. Lend Me a Tenor. The Royal Family. A Doll’s House. The Heiress. Separate Tables. All of these plays are plays that I have seen onstage performed on one set; one glorious set, some of which you could simply live on, were it not for the absence of one wall and the presence of an audience of peeping Toms and Janes. The set for the LCT production of Awake and Sing was just such a set. When I saw it for the first time it was exactly what I would have wished for, for a production of this play. The costumes, the lighting, the snow (yeah, there was snow) was all the same: just what I wanted for a production of Odets’ play.
Most of all, though, this was the cast I had waited to see.
I believe that the cosmic purpose I never saw this play produced was because I was waiting for this cast.
Mine has been a Lauren Ambrose house since Pat and I, first, saw her in one of those wonderful, nauseating, hilarious teenage sex comedies – the sort which we both love and aren’t supposed to admit to because we are lofty lovers of artistic accomplishment. The truth is, though, that we love them and we love her. Then there was Mark Ruffalo, one of the great new actors of his generation, whose work we have championed since first becoming aware of him on the Off Broadway stages of New York. We both simply adore him. One of the all time greats was in this show, giving one of those performances that makes you hold your breath whenever she is onstage – that would be Zoe Wanamaker. And Jonathan Hadary. There is very little to say about Jonathan Hadary except for this: Thank God. Thank God he is a member of the acting community and successful enough that we all get to witness his work.
These were the stars of this wonderful production built on a foundation of perfect work from the technical theatrical artisans who put stunning actors in a stellar setting. So you may ask if I was happy getting to see one of my favourite playwrights represented by these worker bees in the busy hive of Broadway. Oh, yes, I was happy. I was thrilled, to be exact. I was, especially, thrilled because my husband doesn’t (or did not) know the work of Clifford Odets before seeing this production. He knew that I loved Odets, so he was interested. Now, after leaning forward in his seat for two hours, marveling at what was on the stage before him, he knows Odets and why I love him. Pat was so taken with the production and the play that he is, now, a fan of Clifford Odets. I did that. I introduced him to Clifford Odets. That makes me proud. It makes me happy.
What made me happiest, though, was the chance to see to a man onstage that is every bit of a legend to me. I have loved the man’s work since I was a teenager. I love everything about him but, especially, I love his voice. I could listen to him talk, talk, talk, until it is time for me to go to bed. He is one of the industry’s, one of the country’s best actors. OMG, he is Brick. He was the original Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I have heard it said that when he stood on the stage of the Morosco Theater doing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he could whisper and you could hear it in the last row at the top of the theater. I have adored him on film for years but never seen him, live, onstage.
So when I read that Ben Gazzara was to be doing this play, I knew that nothing would keep me away. Had this been one of those poverty stricken years, I would have found a way to see this play. I was so excited by the prospect of the cast I have mentioned in an Odets play on Broadway that I could not contain myself; and when Ben Gazzara began moving about the stage, my heart began to pound and my breathing became shallow. He opened his mouth and this legendary Broadway actor began to speak. He is older and he has had some kind of ailment that has affected his speech… but it was still Ben Gazzara and it was still that voice, ringing through the Belasco Theater; from the stage to the orchestra seats, to the mezzanine, to the balcony…
Right up to the very last row at the top of the theater.
Ben Gazzara’s voice.