Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Awake and Sing!
Olney Theatre Center

Rick Foucheux and Naomi Jacobson
The plays of Clifford Odets (1906-63) were sensational successes in the 1930s for bringing the lived experience of working-class New York Jews to the stage. After falling out of fashion, his plays are being rediscovered—and Olney Theatre Center's production of Awake and Sing! proves that they can be as vital as ever, thanks to Serge Seiden's sensitive direction and some memorable performances.

Awake and Sing!, which premiered on Broadway in 1935, follows the daily challenges of the Berger family in a Bronx apartment. The Depression is far from over, but the Bergers are more fortunate than many other families of the time: father Myron (Paul Morella) and son Ralph (Alex Mandell) have jobs in the garment district, so they can still pay the rent and not worry about eviction.

The drama revolves around Bessie Berger, the indomitable and sometimes unlikable mother—and Naomi Jacobson gives this woman her due. Bessie dominates the family—Myron is amiable enough, but he's a dreamer and rather aimless—and she does what she must to keep her family in line. Still, she isn't a monster; she's lived through a lot of disappointment and sees herself as the only person who knows what should be done in any situation. If that means arranging an unwanted marriage for headstrong daughter Hennie (Laura C. Harris) or needling Ralph about his love for a poor orphaned girl, that's what it means.

The other standouts in the cast are Rick Foucheux as Bessie's father Jacob, a one-time revolutionary who realizes his fantasies of a socialist utopia are never going to come true, and Chris Genebach as Moe Axelrod, a tough guy powered by cynicism and raw determination. Both Hennie and Ralph want to break through the constraints in their lives, but Harris demonstrates more emotional range. Mandell has undeniable energy, as when he somersaults onto his bed, but too often he is overshadowed by the more assertive performances.

Jack Magaw's lived-in scenic design successfully creates the illusion of an apartment where the family has lived for many years, from the dusty walls to the worn but still comfortable furniture. Caitlin Rain's costume designs ably capture the time period.

Olney Theatre Center
Awake and Sing! September 24th - October 19th
By Clifford Odets
Ralph Berger: Alex Mandell
Myron Berger: Paul Morella
Hennie Berger: Laura C. Harris
Jacob: Rick Foucheux
Bessie Berger: Naomi Jacobson
Schlosser: Richard Pelzman
Moe Axelrod: Chris Genebach
Uncle Morty: Richard Pelzman
Sam Feinschreiber: Joshua Morgan
Directed by Serge Seiden
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or

Photo: Stan Barouh