Arena's Co-Founder Returns to D.C. Home to Stage Awake and Sing!; Prosky Stars

News   Arena's Co-Founder Returns to D.C. Home to Stage Awake and Sing!; Prosky Stars Arena Stage's founding director Zelda Fichandler, who ran the famed resident D.C. theatre for 40 years, returns to her artistic home for the first time in nearly a decade to direct Awake and Sing!, beginning previews Jan. 20.

Clifford Odets' Depression-era drama about a Jewish family in the Bronx plays Arena's Kreeger Theatre through March 5. Robert Prosky is among cast members in the staging.

"Celebrating youthful energy and endurance in the face of poverty, Awake and Sing! is a tale of heritage and tradition set in a humble New York apartment housing a proud Jewish family," according to Arena. "When each day during the Great Depression seems like a struggle, the Bergers must work to maintain their storied culture and keep the family together. This American stage classic is poetic, witty and hopeful in its spirited belief that a new future will dawn — one filled with possibility and promise."

(The play is getting a separate spring revival on Broadway by Lincoln Center Theater.)

"I am delighted that Zelda's passion brought Awake and Sing! to Arena," said Arena Stage artistic director Molly Smith, in a statement. "Clifford Odets gives us a view into a first generation Jewish-American family in 1930s Depression-era New York. This play reminds me anew how truly the specific reveals the universal. As artistic director, I daily walk in Zelda's footsteps — bold footsteps that gave birth to Arena Stage and nurtured her theatre into the thriving 55-year old artistic home it is today."

Jana Robbins (the national tour of The Tale of the Allergist's Wife) makes her Arena Stage debut as Bessie, the matriarch of the Berger family. Myron Berger, Bessie's husband, is played by Steve Routman, who made his Broadway debut in Broadway, directed by George Abbott. Hennie is portrayed by Miriam Silverman, who has spent the last four years at the Trinity Repertory Company where she performed in Suddenly Last Summer; The Henriad: Richard II, Henry IV, Henry IV and more.

Adam Green is Ralph, Hennie's brother.

Robert Prosky returns to Washington to play Jacob, the grandfather to Hennie and Ralph and the sentimental idealist. A former member of Arena Stage's company, Tony Award nominee Prosky has appeared in more than 200 plays, 38 films, and many television shows.

The wealthy Berger relative Uncle Morty is played by Brian Reddy, who appeared at Arena Stage in The Way of the World (1992).

Moe Axelrod is portrayed by Adam Dannheisser, who recently appeared in Safe in Hell a Yale Rep.

Sam Feinschreiber is portrayed by Richard Canzano (Proof at North Carolina's Triad Stage).

Arena Stage alumnus Hugh Nees is Schlosser (he was Eddie Brock in Arena's Born Yesterday).

Fichandler said in notes, "I'm happy that Molly shared my enthusiasm for this play and invited me to explore it for contemporary audiences at Arena. It is very exciting to be working again with Robert Prosky and with the other accomplished cast members, not to mention the artisans and technicians who are creating the 1935 environment."

Is the play a museum piece?

"A number of people ask me if the play is dated," Fichandler continued. "I agree with what Harold Clurman, Awake and Sing!'s original director, wrote of the play: 'All drama is dated; it is already a product of a particular moment. We do not dismiss Homer's epic because wars are no longer engaged in over a beautiful girl.' I think this play has contemporary resonances that will leap out at audiences. I hope it does."

Awake and Sing! was first performed at Broadway's Belasco Theater by the influential Group Theatre in 1935. The Group paved the way for plays about social issues and celebrated an acting style that was naturalistic. That production starred Luther and Stella Adler, John Garfield and Sanford Meisner. Awake and Sing! was brought back to Broadway in 1938, 1939 and 1984. The most recent production was directed by Theodore Mann and starred Nancy Marchand, Harry Hamlin, Dick Latessa and Frances McDormand at The Circle in the Square Theater. Lincoln Center's 2006 staging will play the Belasco, the play's original home.

This year marks the centenary of Odets' birth in Philadelphia. His plays include Waiting for Lefty, Paradise Lost, Rocket to the Moon, Golden Boy, The Country Girl and Clash By Night, among others. He wrote the screenplays to such films as "None But the Lonely Heart" (which he also directed) and, with Ernest Lehman, the classic "Sweet Smell of Success." Odets died in 1963, while collaborating on a musical version of Golden Boy for Sammy Davis, Jr.

The creative team for Awake and Sing! at Arena Stage includes set designer Andromache Chalfant, costume designer Linda Cho, lighting designer Allen Lee Hughes, sound designer Marc Gwinn, speech and vocal coach Deborah Hecht, production dramaturg Laurence Maslon and stage manager Martha Knight.

For more information, visit www.arenastage.org.

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Director Zelda Fichandler is the co-founder and was the producing director of Arena Stage from 1950-1990. She is considered a parent of the regional theatre in America. In December 1997, President Clinton awarded her a National Medal of the Arts, the country's highest award for work in the Arts, and in 1998 she was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame, the first person outside of New York to be elected.

She directed many of Arena's plays over the years.

In 1976, the New York commercial theatre world awarded her and Arena Stage its highest honor, the Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award, the first to be given to a company outside of New York.

Since 1984, Fichandler has chaired the Graduate Acting Program at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

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