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The Rationale For Staging A Play

September 2, 2009

awake.jpegIs it enough to stage a play because it seems socially or politically expedient to do so? Or should the fact that a particular drama reflects the times we live in be just part of the rationale behind mounting a production? All too often, it seems to me, producers and directors make programming decisions based solely on this criteria with little consideration for other equally important factors such as whether the play really suits their company's mission, mandate and/or aesthetic approach.

As a result, audiences are fed a lot of half-baked classics, put on simply because the playwright's anti-war sentiments, commentary on race relations, representation of transgender politics.

At yesterday evening's performance of Clifford Odets' 1934
drama, Awake and Sing!, however, I was reminded that social and political prescience can make for a very effective night out at the theatre. But it has to be married to great acting, a powerful mise-en-scene and mounted with an eye to the mission and audience of the company in question in order to truly succeed.

Awake and Sing! is pretty clichéd and hackneyed at this point. It's themes (the breakdown of the American Dream, the rise of anti-capitalist thinking, the dissolution of the family unit, the generation gap, sexual politics etc) and characters (the domineering mother, the milquetoast father, the smart-talking card shark, the upstanding youth, the grandfather from the shtetl etc) have been seen on
American stages many times before Odets came along and many, many times since. But Odets has a wonderful way of developing his characters to their full. When brought to life by Aurora Theatre's crack cast, they dance with humanity. We can't help but feel drawn in to their lives as melodramatic as they seem. Couple the strong performances with Joy Carlin's even-keeled and taut direction, and the play keeps us engrossed thoughout.

Awake and Sing! is also a great choice for Aurora. The play suits the theatre's intimate, deep-cut apron performance space. It also tells a story to which many of the company's audience members can relate. The cast of characters skews on the older side, as does the Aurora crowd at this point. Some of them probably remember growing up around the time that the play is set.

As a result, Odets' play puts across its political and social messages with expediency. But we never feel like we're being bashed over the head with morality. The reasons for staging the play are clear. But they never supersede the experience of engaging with it at the artistic level.


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