Confessions of a Reluctant Revival-Lover
I’m a new play junkie. I’ll sit down for the rough draft of a young writer’s first play any day. I wrinkle my nose at the second or third production of a show; suspicious as seafood in the Midwest, it’s already too old to feed my obsession with what’s new and what’s next. But here’s where the record scratches or CD skips or MP3…continues to play smoothly because it’s a superior technology: Awake and Sing! speaks straight to me.
Set six years after the crash of 1929, Awake and Sing! is at the Huntington now, six years after the start of our Great Recession. While the drama focuses on one family, the height of the labor movement looms over them: widespread strikes inspire Marxist grandfather Jacob and instill fear in factory-owning Uncle Morty. After the remarkable local worker’s movement at Market Basket this summer – and still in the wake of Occupy Wall Street – our air is thick with the same tensions. Occupy protestors who taped money over their mouths resonate in Ralph’s rallying cry that, "We’ll fix it so life won't be printed on dollar bills.”
For me, the play reverberates not just politically, but personally, through Ralph and his sister Hennie. As the play opens, the twenty-something siblings still live at home, stuck there equally through circumstance and their own uncertainty; neither knows how to move forward or even, as Ralph puts it, “get to first base.” Their predicament may sound familiar to the many in my generation who are now moving back in with their parents and making compromises based on what the Bergers call “conditions.” The statistics are staggering. Emerging from college with student debt and an unfriendlyjob market stacked against us, millennials find our Special Snowflakes melting – and ask the same questions the play begs. How do you escape the cult of success and wage a meaningful life – especially when your family force-feeds you the Kool-Aid? Clifford Odets wrote Awake and Sing! in his 20s, and youth – in all its mixed vigor and anxiety – pulses through Ralph and Hennie’s lines much as it does through my veins.
#2 And Sing!
Hennie and Ralph aren’t life rafts tossed on the waves of history; they’re living. They experience the same depth of feeling and complexity of choices – and share many of the circumstances – that we do. In revisiting Odets’s 1935 classic, I’ve been plucked from the altar of novelty my iPhone-toting peers and I have built. I’ve realized the particular and profound power of revivals. While theatre is often a practice of empathy, a good revival offers its audience an especially challenging and rewarding opportunity to connect not just from our seats to the stage but across years or centuries. We come to recognize that people so far outside ourselves were just as real as we are. And we might even recognize ourselves in them. Fellow millennials, come join me in the mezzanine. The revival isn’t on the stage but in us.