Angst in the Bronx

Apr 6, 2010

Deborah Strang stars as Bessie Berger; photo by Craig Schwartz.

Playwright Clifford Odets has a lot on his mind in Awake and Sing!, now in repertory at A Noise Within in Glendale. The play deals with a year in the life of a struggling Bronx family in the middle of the other Depression. Standing in for economic collapse, ossified class structure and the system in general is Bessie Berger (Deborah Strang), the Jewish mother from hell. She manipulates her intellectual communist father (Len Lesser), a new immigrant from Russia (Davind Lengel), her “fast” daughter (Molly Leland), her shrinking violet husband (Joel Swetow) and her milquetoast son (Adam Silver) according to her iron will and rigid world view. Only her rich brother (Alan Blumenfeld) and a World War I vet and mobster, the outsider Moe (Daniel Reichert), will stand up to Bessie. Anguish and redemption ensue.

Director Andrew J. Traister brings Awake and Sing! to claustrophobic, recognizable life, underplaying the parallels with today in favor of getting the dialogue moving like a George Cukor movie (the set is vintage Brooklyn, and so are the accents). Two ten-minute intermissions are one too many, but the action and interest never drag. Awake and Sing! sticks with you like a 1935 two-bit meal of meatloaf, coffee and pie – something to chew on, something to excite you — and something sweet at the end.

Awake and Sing!
A Noise Within
234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale
In repertory through May 23; check ANW website for times & dates
Tickets $40 & $45; call 818.240.0910 or



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