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A CurtainUp Review
Awake and Sing
Some of the plays that have been mounted by NAATCO, either because they are set in the distant past (Othello) or because they have an element of the absurd (Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter) could easily be performed by any ethnic group. However, other plays NAATCO has staged are themselves about a specific ethnic group ( Karen Hartman's Leah's Train). And here the task becomes more problematic.
NAATCO's latest endeavor is Clifford Odets' Awake and Sing!, a play about an immigrant Jewish family trying to survive the depression. Originally produced by The Group Theatre, Awake and Sing! was directed by Harold Clurman and starred (among others) Luther and Stella Adler, Morris Carnovsky and John Garfield, all of whom were associated with the Yiddish theater.
NAATCO's production is directed by Stephen Fried and features an Asian-American cast. Bessie, the family matriarch, is played by Mia Katigbak, artistic producing director and co-founder of NAATCO. Henry Yuk is Bessie's husband, Myron. Bessie's daughter, Hennie, is played by Teresa Avia Lim. And Sanjit De Silva plays the amorous boarder, Moe Axelrod.
The cast tries extremely hard to appropriate the accent and mannerisms of Jewish immigrants, and often they are quite successful. But, at the same time, they seem to be concentrating so hard on the superficial aspects of the characters that they miss the subtleties of their personalities.
Yuk walks around shrugging and shaking his head. Katigbak is shrill and determined, but she wears a very nice suit and doesn't look or act as if her hands ever touched a dirty dish. Lim, who plays a young woman who finds herself pregnant and without a man to give her baby his name, is desperate in a very general way.
However, De Silva is excellent as the bitter and maimed Axelrod. When he recalls the day he found out his leg had been amputated, it's impossible not to feel his pain. This is partly because De Silva is a skilled actor and and to some extent because Axelrod is not supposed to be particularly Jewish. And Jon Norman Schneider is convincing as Bessie and Myron's son, Ralph, a young man who longs for love and independence, even if Schneider is not so believably Jewish.
Curiously, this is the second time NAATCO has devoted itself to a play about Jews. There are many other ethnic groups in the United States. It would be interesting to see how the company would handle August Wilson's Fences.