"Awake & Sing"
Some plays, that are well respected by audiences and critics, take a while to be presented in San Diego County. One example is Clifford Odets 1935 drama, “Awake and Sing!” His 20th century achievement, was revived successfully several times on Broadway. Yet, it’s never been staged by a regional company. Kristianne Kurner, the Executive Artistic Director of Carlsbad’s New Village Arts Theatre, is excited to give San Diegans a rare chance to watch the classic live.
David Dixon (SDTR): Can you give readers an overview of what the show is about?
Kristianne Kurner: The plot takes place in 1935 and is about a Jewish immigrant family called the Bergers. They are trying to make their way through the depression. Each member of the clan has their own version of The American Dream. Odets’ script follows how they try to succeed in very difficult situations. His tale is even more relevant now, because there are a lot of young people in 2017 that are finding their voices and are wondering what this country should be like in this day and age. All the issues are ones that everyone is facing today.
DD: What made you interested in directing
Awake and Sing!”?
KK: The reason I always wanted to direct this play is connected to my training. My Master’s degree is in acting from The Actors Studio, which is the direct lineage of the Group Theater. This show put them on the map, and I’d consider it to be the “Holy Grail” for anyone involved with the organization. I really wanted to direct the drama, because of Odets’ dialogue and the ensemble approach.
DD: Did you learn a lot about Jewish American culture and the depression, in preparation for this show?
KK: I did a good amount of research and met with a lot of people. It was important to me, that we are honoring the Jewish cultures and traditions in this show. There are members of the cast that are Jewish as well. Everyone involved with the production, wants to honor the great people that we are representing.
DD: Any characters you find yourself connecting to in the script and why?
KK: All of them! That’s what I love about the narrative. You can find something to identify with in each character. It’s a true ensemble piece and every role is extremely crucial.
DD: Did you ever visit the Bronx in the past, and if so, did it influence your direction for this production?
KK: I’ve been before. I actually went last summer. I lived in Brooklyn for five years, and there are some nice parallels between Brooklyn and the Bronx. There is a certain magic and romantic feel to living in New York, which I hope to capture with my set design.
DD: Another Odets show that played at NVA, was “Golden Boy”. What are some of the parallels between his two plays?
KK: He was writing for his time and for the group of actors that he was working with. The parallels tie into the idea of how people keep going when things are tough. In both of his works, Odets says that the way you lose in life, is when you don’t follow your passion. Although a lot of serious things and tragedy happen in Awake and Sing!” there is a lot of hope for the family, which is very important to the playwright.
DD: Would you want to work on other shows
written by Odets?
KK: There are several I’d like to eventually stage. “Waiting for Lefty,” “Paradise Lost” and “Rocket to the Moon” are ones I’m interested in directing.
DD: Anything else you want readers to know
about “Awake and Sing!”?
KK: Besides experiencing life in the 1930’s with a Jewish Bronx family, you’ll be able to see how relevant the story still is today. Hopefully, the piece will be inspirational for audiences. I should warn everyone that the evening is not a musical. I get that question a lot, because of the title. I’d like people to leave uplifted and inspired.
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