Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

First Lady of a Family Drama; Matriach: West Wing Star Stockard Channing as the Dominant Bessie with Jodie Whittaker as Hennie in Awake and Sing! at the Almeida

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

First Lady of a Family Drama; Matriach: West Wing Star Stockard Channing as the Dominant Bessie with Jodie Whittaker as Hennie in Awake and Sing! at the Almeida

Article excerpt

Byline: NICHOLAS DE JONGH

Awake And Sing! Almeida ***

NO famous British play of the Thirties would have dared boast a working-class,Jewish grandfather, taking a Marxist line and complaining about the bitterfruits of capitalism.

Thanks to stage censorship, mention of contemporary politics was then forbiddenon English stages.

Just such a grandfather, though, fulfils a crucial, combative role in CliffordOdets's Awake And Sing! So Michael Attenborough's starry revival of this lowermiddle-class, Jewish family dramaa young playwright's alarm call to America in the grim Depression years whenbread lines formed on Times Square comes as a slight theatrical culture shock.

Of the clash of political views, though, there is next to nothing.

Odets observes the contrasts between John Rogan's Grandfather Jacob's wistful,idealistic Marxism and the understandable materialism of the rest of the Bergerfamily.

They struggle to make ends meet, while Trevor Cooper's rich Uncle Morty keepshis money to himself.

Attenborough's neither authentic nor well-cast production, set in a cramped buttoo well-heeled apartment, makes it clear that the enduring appeal of Awake AndSing! has little to do with politics, but plenty with the mordant comedy ofJewish family life and the fine cut of its verbal comedy.

Odets harks back to Chekhov and O'Casey in style and technique. He also recordsa cherishable lingothe clever wisecracks, the cynicalironic repartee, the odd syntax and sheerstreet poetry of period Jewish-Americans.

This is a play which appeals to the ear, more than to any other body part.

"I'll tango on a dime. Don't gimme ice when your heart's on fire," orders NigelLindsay's nonchalantly rude, racketeering Moe Axelrod to Jodie Whittaker'shyper-cool Hennie Berger, the girl Moe has hopefully loved, lost and gone onlosing for years. …

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