Awake and Sing!

By Clifford Odets

Santa Clara University Production
Director: Scott Kaiser
Scenic Designer: Jerald Enos
Costume Designer: Barbara Murray
Lighting Designer: Derek Duarte
Sound Designer: David Sword
Voice & Dialect Coach: Kimberley Mohne Hill

Director’s Notes:

As a Jewish American, I treasure Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing! as a rich, passionate expression of my own cultural heritage, a loving homage to the Ashkenazi Jews that fled the pogroms of Europe, settled in the United States, and scratched their way out of poverty over many generations.

This is the story of the Berger family.

Here, under one roof in the Bronx, at the height of the Great Depression, three generations of working-class Jews live and struggle together.

Here, Bessie Berger, the strong-willed matriarch, strives to overcome harsh times and hold the family together, despite the romantic yearnings of her son Ralph, the proud cynicism of her daughter Hennie, the tight-fisted grip of her brother Morty, the socialist ideals of her father Jacob, and the ineffectual dreaming of her husband, Myron.

Here, in two rooms on Longwood Avenue, we witness the distinctly Jewish elements of family life: the speech pickled with Yiddish, the jokes that deflect and subvert, the questions that prick like thorns, the obsession with books, the wrestling with ethics, the cross-examination of the universe, not to mention the chopped liver, the knishes, and the pastrami sandwiches.

But, in a larger sense, the Berger family could be any family, at any time in America’s history. It could be a Mexican family whose ancestors crossed the Rio Grande looking for work. It could be a Vietnamese family whose parents survived the war in Southeast Asia. It could be a Haitian family, who reached our shores in a leaky boat fleeing a cruel dictatorship. Or it could be a Syrian family, today, right now, desperate to come to America to escape the deadly civil war in their homeland. It could be any family who came to this country in search of a fresh start, struggling to carve out a place, find opportunities, earn advancement, and secure a better future for themselves and for their children.

And this is why Odets' play endures, eighty years after it was written, as a true American theatrical masterpiece—a play that’s timely whenever you produce it. Because it is about the universal American experience—about families who risked everything to get to this country, who strive everyday to obtain the promise of America, who suffer everyday with hardship and heartbreak, and yet, who wake up each morning as Americans, open their throats, and sing!

—Scott Kaiser