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A Note from the Dramaturg

“Black Monday: Stocks Sink As Gloom Seizes Wall Street. Prolonged Economic Turmoil”

AP Headline (2008)

“Be prepared for the worst… repeating the Great Depression”

– Forbes (2009)

The next financial crisis is coming; we made it worse

– New Republic (2009)

The economy is still at the brink

– Wall Street Journal (2010)

We have, of late, been saturated by messages of economic doom and tales of families ruined.  The pervasive story of the last few years is that of the middle class family evicted from their home, left jobless and hopeless.  The most frightening reporting compares the current economic situation with the Great Depression: a time when dire economic conditions across the globe forced families out of a life of optimism to face a future dominated by financial destitution.  The Roaring Twenties saw the end of the War to End All Wars, exciting innovations in technology and entertainment, financial booms, and expanded rights and roles for women.  But in 1928, everything changed.  Boundless opportunity was replaced by feelings of helplessness and grim predestination.  A world characterized by freedom felt suddenly choiceless.  It is not a surprise that all of this sounds uncomfortably familiar.

Clifford Odets wrote his eulogy to the American Dream in the winter of 1932-33.  Set in 1933, Awake and Sing! was originally titled I Got the Blues. The entire world shared this dark sentiment; the stock market had crashed just four years earlier.  President Hoover had initiated relief efforts with the creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which FDR would extend and expand into the more famous WPA in 1935.  The Berger family, Clifford Odets, and people across the globe were shocked to wake up one morning and realize that capitalism, industry, and the pursuit of profit would not guarantee a better world.  The internationally dominant, all-powerful, capitalistic system was suddenly in ruin.  Perhaps four years ago an explanation of this bleak economic climate would have been needed, a historical overview of middle class struggle necessary, but the hopelessness of the Great Depression is all too familiar in 2010.

Like many of us, Clifford Odets was faced with a world that seemed suddenly false.  Work hard, save your money, make good investments, and your returns will be lucrative, your retirement comfortable, and your future golden.  Faced with the collapse of the economy, Odets asked the all-too-familiar questions: “Now what?  How do I make a life out of these ruins?  Where’s the future?  What’s life for?”  On the cusp of these answers, we find Awake and Sing!

But this play is not simply about the economy.  It isn’t about capitalism or communism or socialism.  It isn’t about politics.  It is about family.  The Bergers’ world is so restricted by Read More »