In her extensive new introduction to this collection of six plays, which adds an Arthur Miller work to five she previously anthologized, Schiff sets out to illustrate how the stage expresses “the seminal events that shaped the American Jewish experience through the last century.” Collectively, the works she has chosen, analyzed in generous head notes, effectively meet that goal.
The struggle of Jews in the early 20th century to realize the “promise of America” despite discrimination and exclusion provides the subject of Counsellor- At-Law by Elmer Rice (1931). Clifford Odets’ Awake and Sing! (1935) portrays Jewish Americans struggling “for life amidst petty conditions” during the Great Depression. Sylvia Regan’s Morning Star (1940) chronicles an American Jewish family, tragically afflicted by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Paddy Chayefsky’s The Tenth Man (1959) explores the loss of several kinds of faith agitating American Jewry. In Herb Gardner’s Conversations with My Father (1991), an immigrant Jew attempts to “make it” in America at the cost of his ethnic identity and his family’s wellbeing. And Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass (1994) examines the “paralytic” reaction of his characters, insecure in their American Jewish identity, to Kristallnacht and anti-Semitism in the workplace.
In a field unjustly and too often overlooked, Awake and Singing is a welcome salute to the rich contribution of plays of Jewish interest to the American repertoire.