The OBIE Award-winning NAATCO, National Asian American Theater Company kicks off their 24th season with Clifford Odets’s Awake & Sing!Stephen Fried directs an all-Asian American cast that includes Sanjit De Silva, Mel Duane Gionson, Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte, Mia Katigbak, Teresa Avia Lim, Jon Norman Schneider, David Shih, Alok Tewari, and Henry Yuk. This Off-Broadway limited engagement begins performances on August 16th at Walker Space (46 Walker Street) in New York, and continues through September 8th. Opening Night is set for August 21st (8pm).
Considered Odets’s finest play, Awake and Sing! premiered on Broadway in 1935, performed by the Group Theater. It is the story of the Bergers, a lower middle class, three-generation Jewish family living in a Bronx apartment during the Depression. Odets described it as “a struggle for life amid petty conditions,” capturing the frenetic, pressured existence in this crowded dwelling with robust authenticity.
Awake and Sing! recalls that this country was founded as the land of opportunity for immigrants who came to its cities and towns with an enduring belief in the American dream. Odets’s characters are all the parents, grandparents, and children who sought refuge and forged new lives. Families like these from around the world continue to make their way here every day, making Awake & Sing! as timely today as it was when it was written.
Clifford Odets helped found The Group Theatre in 1933, the legendary theatre company. After briefly trying acting, Odets became The Group Theatre’s first original playwright. In 1935, he wrote Awake and Sing! Although it was only his first play, it is considered his masterpiece. Because of misgivings from Group leader Lee Strasberg, Awake and Sing!was not produced right away. Odets’ first play to actually be produced was the one-act play Waiting for Lefty. That same year, he also wrote the first anti-Nazi played produced in the United States, Till the Day I Die. His next play, Golden Boy, became his biggest commercial success. When The Group Theatre disbanded in 1942, Odets returned to Hollywood. In 1953, Odets was investigated by Joseph McCarthy and called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He disavowed his communist affiliations and cooperated by “naming names;” as a result, Odets became filled with self-loathing, and found it very difficult to write. He only completed one more play, The Flowering Peach. Odets died on August 18, 1963, fifty years ago.
Stephen Fried’s work has been seen most recently at NYU/Tisch’s Graduate Acting Program (Meantime: Home), Trinity Shakespeare Festival (Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing), SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts (Major Barbara), Shakespeare Theatre of NJ (All’s Well That Ends Well, Comedy of Errors, and other works with the theatre’s training companies), Ensemble Studio Theatre (Cori Thomas’sHis Daddy), Milwaukee Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part 1), Illinois Shakespeare (Love’s Labour’s Lost), and at the Shakespeare Theatre Company (The School for Wives and Love’s Labour’s Lost Free For All). As Associate Producing Director of New Worlds Theatre Project, he recently directed H. Leivick’s Welcome to America, the benefit reading of Dovid Pinski’s Professor Brenner starring Elaine Stritch, and a developmental workshop of Asch’s With The Current at the National Yiddish Book Center. He has developed work at The Lark, Sundance Theatre Lab, Page73, Arena Stage, Writers’ Theatre, NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, Theatre J, Catalyst Theatre, and at the Weston Playhouse. Upcoming projects include Julius Caesar at Trinity Shakespeare Festival, a new adaptation of Professor Brenner developed with Clarence Coo, and a new musical he is developing with composer Josh Schmidt and writers Austin Pendleton and Todd Almond based on the life and work of Nikolai Gogol.
Awake & Sing! will have scenic design by Anshuman Bhatia, costume design by Moria Clinton, lighting design by Gina Scherr, and sound design by Toby Algya.
The National Asian American Theatre Co., Inc. (NAATCO) was founded in 1989 to assert the presence and significance of Asian American theatre in the United States, demonstrating its vital contributions to the fabric of American culture, offering European and American classics as written with all Asian American casts; adaptations of these classics by Asian American Playwrights; and new plays – preferably world premieres – written by non-Asian Americans, not for or about Asian Americans, but realized by an all Asian American cast. NAATCO puts into service its total commitment to Asian American theatre artists to more accurately represent onstage the multi- and inter-cultural dynamics of our society. By doing so, they demonstrate a rich tapestry of cultural difference bound by the American experience. The enrichment accrues to each different culture as well as to America as a whole. NAATCO performs this chosen repertory as written, with no forced Asian cultural associations. The repertory’s importance comes not only through the valuable training it provides for theatrical craft, but also from its ability to reach across ethnic boundaries to illuminate abiding characteristics of human nature. The superimposition of Asian faces on a non-Asian repertory, interpreted by artists using diverse and truly universal references to serve the text very faithfully, reflects and emphasizes the kinship among disparate cultures. “We do not say we are all the same, we say that we have quite large areas of understanding. We also say that affirmations of timeless values and new insights about old works can come from unexpected faces.”
NAATCO was the recipient of the 2012-13 Lucille Lortel Award from the League of Professional Theatre Women for their work “highlighting the multi- and intercultural dynamics of our society” and the 2006 Rosetta LeNoire Award from Actors’ Equity Association in recognition of its contribution toward increasing diversity and non-traditional casting in American theatre.
Awake & Sing! is made possible, in part, with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Performances are Monday through Saturday evenings at 7:00pm, with special added matinees Saturday, September 7th and Sunday, September 8th at 2:00pm; no performances August 26th or September 2nd.
Tickets are $25. To purchase tickets or for more information, visitwww.naatco.org or call 866/811-4111.
Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia recently starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, Lorey Hayes, Marcus Naylor and Phynjuar.