“To move into this house was a terminal, a mission accomplished. But it became a mere wayside stop on the line on the way to something bigger and better. Where does America stop? When does it begin to sink home and nourishing roots?” -Clifford Odets, playwright and former resident of 783 Beck Street.
Clifford Odets, who grew up right off of Longwood Avenue, wasn’t the first or last Bronxite to write a play about their borough but his work “Awake and Sing” seems to one of the most frequently reproduced. In December, I saw a Yiddish version of it in the East Village and a version of it featuring zombies called “WAKE…SING” was playing in Greenwich Village. I left the play wondering why a play about a Bronx family struggling with the Depression and their own personal limitations such a hit? First, it was one of the first ‘kitchen sink’ dramas which has the intensity and relatability of everyday life. Secondly, even though it has some specifically Bronx themes including a shoutout to Franklin Avenue and McKinley Square, the story is pretty universal. Third, agitprop. If you believe that theater is supposed to spark the workers of the world into some sort of revelation and revolution, as Odets did, then this is the ticket.