Awake & Singing: Six Great Amer­i­can Jew­ish Plays

Ellen Schiff, ed.
  • Review
By – September 24, 2012

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.

Nor­man J. Fed­der, Ph.D., is dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of the­atre at Kansas State Uni­ver­si­ty. He is cur­rent­ly on the fac­ul­ty of the Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Arts Pro­gram at Nova South­east­ern University.

Discussion Questions