Awake and Sing!

Awake and Sing! is a drama written by American playwright Clifford Odets. The play was initially produced by The Group Theatre in 1935.

Awake and Sing!
Playbill title page, Belasco Theatre, 1935
Written byClifford Odets
Date premieredFebruary 19, 1935
Place premieredBelasco Theatre
New York City, New York, United States
Original languageEnglish
SubjectA family struggles for survival amongst harsh conditions
SettingThe Bronx, 1933

Summary and characters

The play is set in The Bronx borough of New York City, New York, in 1933. It concerns the impoverished Berger family, who all live under one roof, and their conflicts as the parents scheme to manipulate their children's relationships to their own ends, while their children strive for their own dreams.

The audience is introduced to a unique family. The matriarch of the family, Bessie, had high hopes and dreams for her family; however, despite her hopefulness, her largest fear is that her family will lose their home and all their possessions. This fear stems from a woman down the street who had this exact thing happen to her.

The household consists of extended family such as Bessie's father, Jacob, her husband Myron, and their son Ralph, 21, and spinster daughter Hennie, 26. To top it all off, in order to ease the financial burden on the family, the Bergers have taken in an immigrant boarder, named Sam.

Besides the desire for financial stability, there are other problems that the Bergers face, such as Hennie's unwanted pregnancy. To avoid this burden on the family, Bessie insists on the marriage between Hennie and the new immigrant boarder in order to save her family's reputation and her daughter's life. Hennie has no love for Sam. The family has very different views on the arranged marriage between Hennie and Sam. For example, Ralph, a more philosophical character of the play, is not in agreement with his mother's decision. Ralph very much resembles his grandfather who is an idealist. The Berger house is therefore divided into idealists and realists, much like society as a whole.

In a turn of events, Jacob commits suicide after making Ralph the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, in hopes that this will give Ralph the freedom for which he yearns.


Odets brings to the table the issues of the importance of appearances in relation to respectability in society - how we appear to society is how we improve and gain status - as well as the contrasting worlds of idealism and realism. Odets also presents the contrasting of materialistic ideals and the importance of money in society. Through his writing, he zooms in on the economic burden that is placed on society and how it affects the lives of humans and the way they live their lives. He also shows how values can become blurred and perceptions can change with experience.


  • Myron Berger  the father of the family
  • Bessie Berger  his wife
  • Hennie Berger  their daughter, age 26
  • Ralph Berger  their son, age 21
  • Uncle Morty  Bessie's brother, a successful businessman
  • Jacob  father of Bessie and Morty; a Marxist; he lives with the Bergers
  • Moe Axelrod  a friend of the family who eventually boards with the Bergers
  • Sam Feinschreiber  an immigrant who courts Hennie
  • Schlosser  the janitor in the Bergers' apartment building


The play premiered on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre on February 19, 1935, running for 184 performances before closing on July 27, 1935; it returned two months later on September 9 for an additional 24 performances through September 28, 1935. Directed by Harold Clurman, the cast starred Luther Adler (Moe Axelrod), Stella Adler (Bessie Berger), Morris Carnovsky (Jacob), John Garfield (Ralph Berger) and Sanford Meisner (Sam Feinschreiber).

It was revived in 1961 at the Teatro Oficina, São Paulo, Brazil.

It was revived off-Broadway in 1970, 1979, 1993 and 1995.[1] It was revived on Broadway in 1938, 1939, 1984 and 2006.

A Lincoln Center Theater production on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre, opening on April 17, 2006, and closing on June 25, 2006 after 80 performances and 27 previews, won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. Directed by Bartlett Sher, the cast featured Ben Gazzara (Jacob), Zoë Wanamaker (Bessie), Mark Ruffalo (Moe), Pablo Schreiber (Ralph), and Lauren Ambrose (Hennie).[2][3] Gazzara and Ruffalo repeated their roles (with Sher directing) in a 2010 L.A. Theatre Works recording of the play that also starred Jane Kaczmarek.[4]

Directed by Robert Hopkins and Norman Lloyd, Awake and Sing, premiered on PBS March 6, 1972.[5] This film production of the play featured Walter Matthau[6] (Moe), Ruth Storey (Bessie), Felicia Farr (Hennie), Robert Lipton (Ralph), Leo Fuchs (Jacob), Milton Selzer (Myron), Martin Ritt (Uncle Morty), Ron Rifkin (Sam), and John Myhers (Schlosser).[5]

It was produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, in 1996.

In 2006, Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. produced the show with the director (and Arena's founding artistic director) Zelda Fichandler in a production featuring Robert Prosky as Jacob, and featuring the adoption of Yiddish in the script that conforms to Odets's earlier version of the play, titled "I Got the Blues."[7]

Following its American success in revivals, the play was staged in London at the Off West End Almeida Theatre, from August 31, 2007, through October 20, 2007. Directed by Michael Attenborough, the cast featured Stockard Channing as Bessie.[8]

The play opened in Toronto, Ontario, on June 6, 2009, for a two-month run at the Soulpepper Theatre Company.

The National Asian American Theatre Company in New York produced the play from August to September 2013 at the SoHo Walker Space. It won an Obie Award for Mia Katigbak as Bessie Berger. It is currently playing at the New York Public Theatre as part of National Asian American Theatre Company's 25th Anniversary.[9]

In 2014, a production at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts in Olney, Maryland was directed by Serge Seiden and featured Rick Foucheux as Jacob and Naomi Jacobsen as Bessie Berger.[10] Also in 2014, a production at Boston's Huntington Theater Company, was directed by Melia Bensussen. [11] [12]

In 2015, the Public Theater with National Asian-American Theatre Company presented a production with a cast completely of Asian descent under the direction of Stephen Brown-Fried. It was led by Mia Katigbak and received a Drama League nomination for Outstanding Revival.[13]

Awards and nominations

Tony Awards (2006)

  • Best Revival of a Play (win)
  • Best Costume Design of a Play (win)
  • Best Lighting Design of a Play (nomination)
  • Best Scenic Design of a Play (nomination)
  • Best Direction of a Play (nomination)
  • Featured Actress – Zoe Wanamaker (nomination)
  • Featured Actor – Mark Ruffalo (nomination) and Pablo Schreiber (nomination)

Drama Desk Awards (2006)

  • Outstanding Revival of a Play (win)
  • Outstanding Set Design of a Play (win)
  • Outstanding Ensemble Performance (win)
  • Outstanding Lighting Design (nomination)

See also


  1. Internet Off-Broadway database listing, Awake and Sing Archived April 5, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  2. article on 2006 revival Archived December 24, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, 2006
  3. Defying Poverty's Everyday Despair in Odets's 'Awake and Sing!' The New York Times review of 2006 revival, April 18, 2006
  4. Awake and Sing, With Ruffalo and Gazzara, Begins L.A. Run Jan. 13 Archived March 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  5. TV Guide, North Carolina Edition, March 4–10, 1972, pg A-45
  6. Internet Movie Database listing Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 13, 2009.
  7. Awake and Sing! - Zelda Fichandler returns to Arena to direct Clifford Odetts' (sic) drama, All About Jewish Theatre, article undated Archived October 21, 2014, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved October 21, 2014.
  8. Almeida Theatre's 2007 London production Archived September 15, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  10. Theater Review, Awake and Sing! at Olney Theatre Center Theater Review, 'Awake and Sing!' at Olney Theatre Center, Maryland Theatre Guide, Sept. 29, 2014. Retrieved October 21, 2014.
  11. Review, Awake and Sing! at Huntington Theater WBUR, 'Awake and Sing!' at Huntington Theater, Nov. 14, 2014. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  12. Review, Awake and Sing! at Huntington Theater Boston Globe, 'Awake and Sing!' at Huntington Theater, Nov. 14, 2014. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  • Hernandez, Ernio (April 17, 2006). "Playbill Archives: Awake and Sing! — 1935". Playbill. Archived from the original on November 17, 2008. Retrieved November 4, 2008.

Further reading

  • Odets, Clifford (1900s). Shtey uf un zing (in Yiddish). United States: O.fg. OCLC 83856392.
  • Odets, Clifford (1935). Awake and Sing, A Play in Three Acts. New York City: Random House. OCLC 2128928.
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