Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Awake and Sing!
Also see Sarah's review of Next to Normal
Under Mr. Woolf's direction, the performers capture the crazy delight of noble spirits in fierce conflictwhether it's Aaron Orion Baker's disenchanted working man, battling his no-nonsense mother (the splendid Elizabeth Ann Townsend); or Bobby Miller as the proletariat grandfather, battling against nearly everyone elsewhile keeping a twinkle in his eye. Ms. Townsend especially, and the whole cast, remain masters of their own stereotypes.
Julie Layton is great as the rebellious daughter whose little secret throws the family into a tailspin. And Jason Cannon is another black sheep, throwing cold water on everyone's romantic and economic idealism, as Layton's cynical, thwarted suitor. Now and then, in his characterization, he sneaks up to an imaginary line that might separate Stanley Kowalski from Sky Masterson, and dances lightly between the two. But he's at his absolute best when he simply underplays, off to one side of the stage, once his own character is fully established. Gary Wayne Barker plays the ineffectual father who almost, but not quite, realizes his terrible failure in life. And, like the struggle for better working conditions, Mr. Barker's own internal workings are hinted at with ingenious subtlety.
There are also heavy hitters in the outfield: Jerry Vogel as a businessman who knows the dark underside of the labor war; and Terry Meddows coming and going as a building superintendent who's strictly Old World. Jordan Reinwald even manages to be heart-wrenching as he simmers with indignation over his fate as a convenient but unloved young husband. And that's partly due to good direction, too: as our eyes wander over to him, ever the outsider as the story moves on.
But at the end of it all, there are some five troubling minutes or so when the three young stars map out their plan to boycott the status quo. And here we are, with Mr. Baker, Ms. Layton and Mr. Cannon: each of them highly respected around town, under the direction of the longest-surviving of all the top-ranked local showmenand somehow they all agree to turn those last five minutes from kitchen-sink realism into a two-dimensional, tremulous soap opera. Now, as soon as I say that, I must confess that the audience didn't seem to mind at all at the way things worked out. But it was a strange note to leave on, being a clear break from all the credibility they'd built up in the preceding two hours. Why they all decided (or why the director couldn't resist) to "schmaltz it up" in those final, mawkish minutes, I guess we'll never know. But everyone else in the audience seemed to like it fine on that first Saturday night. It shouldn't stop you from going, but it ought to give director Woolf pause to reconsider the power of Odets, and the potential power of his own young actors to come up with something betteror at least more consistent with the overall tone.
Through May 8, 2011, at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, just west of Lindberg on Schuetz Rd. For more information call (314) 442-3283 or visit them online at www.newjewishtheatre.org
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
** Denotes member, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers