PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Awake and Sing: Odets, Poordets

By Harry Haun
18 Apr 2006

Tony-winning Clark won’t be touring the show. It’s enough that she will stay on the horse till the buzzer sounds July 2. (The show is going out in style with a “Live From Lincoln Center” telecast on June 15.) “Oh, there are many actresses who could do that role and do it very well,” she sunnily insisted. “I’m going to rest. I need some family time and some vacation time, and then we’ll see where we are.” Where we are could be South Pacific.

“Oh, I’d love to have Victoria Clark in that—she would be perfect for it,” said Sher, who will be in charge of directing this first Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Pulitzer Prize winner. “We’re really very preliminary now. Mostly, what we know is Andre and I have to get together, sit down and start thinking about it maybe next week.” After that, he has a full and eclectic plate. "Next, I do Richard III at Intiman, starting in May, with a guy named Steve Polinsky. And I’m doing The Barber of Seville at The Met.”

Director Mark Lamos just got his opera up at New York City Opera on April 16—Handel’s Acis and Galatea—and is now focusing on two new plays. He starts rehearsing in June an A. R. Gurney opus called Indian Blood and will open it in early August at Primary Stages with John McMartin, Rebecca Luker, Pamela Payton Wright, Jack Gilpin, Kathleen McGrath and Matthew Arkin. “It’s a little memoir about a boy growing up rebellious in Buffalo right after World War II.” Then he will stage Alfred Uhry’s The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara at the new Guthrie in October.

Uhry, whose latest (Without Walls with Laurence Fishburne), hits L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum June 11-July 16, is currently workshopping with director-choreographer Martha Clarke a new piece called Ann, The Word , based on a book by that name about Mother Ann Lee, who started the Shaker Movement. Frances McDormand plays the title role, and Michael Berresse is her brother. Denis O’Hare and Michael Stuhlbarg co-star.

Berresse earlier in the day picked up a Lortel Award nomination certificate for his choreography of [title of show], a show at the Vineyard that he also directed. “The most likely possibility is that [title of show] will have a longer life, possibly in that theatre but not necessarily. Our producer, Kevin McCollum, is involved with The Drowsy Chaperone right now. Those two shows prove he really does have his heart in the right place. The reason he’s drawn to both those pieces is the art form. The initial impulse was about creation, and I really respect that he’s willing to take those kinds of chances.”

Pointing himself toward tomorrow, Berresse will be Zak when A Chorus Line reforms for an Oct. 5 opening on Broadway. And he’s adapting a piece he’ll direct, hopefully with Christine Ebersole , whose mighty performance(s) in Grey Gardens missed a Lortel nod.

Although exact and eclectic, the casting of Awake and Sing! is very unexpected. And none of the actors is more surprising to find here than Wanamaker, a brilliant American-born British actress who visits Broadway rarely but never without a Tony nomination and always with a different accent. She has been French (in 1981’s Piaf), British (in 1986’s Loot) and Greek (in 1999’s Electric)—and now she is adding Jewish to the ethnic mix.

Why did she want to do this role? One has to ask. “Because it means a lot to me and my family, where I came from, my roots, everything I know.” Her father, actor Sam Wanamaker, was bedevilled by the same zealous Commie witchhunters that plagued Odets. “My father was ruined by the blacklisting in this country so he went to England, because he knew that he would be subpoenaed and he wouldn’t name names.”

Sitting at Wanamaker’s opening-night table was Madeline Gilford, widow of the wonderful Jack Gilford, whose career was derailed by the same sinister forces.

Gazarra, who does not brook inanities, was asked as he briskly entered the party with his beautiful wife Elke if he enjoyed doing the play. “No,” he barked, not breaking his stride, “I don’t enjoy it.” Later, however, when the question was slightly recycled for him, he did manage to laugh somewhat derisively. “I don’t understand what that means. It’s a great play and a great company of actors and a great director—of course, I had a great time.”

It is a favorite play of his. He never saw Morris Carnovsky do the grandfather role, but he did know “from the Actors’ Studio” John Randolph who did the part in a previous Broadway revival. Not that the past really matters with this particular play, he said. “I don’t think anybody knew how to do Awake and Sing! until we did it tonight. It always failed. I think Odets finally is being done the way he should be done, and now maybe people will understand what he’s about. I met Odets a few times, and I often think of him when I’m on stage. I wish he were alive to see this production. I’m quite proud of this.”

Ruffalo, who has racked three or four Off-Broadway performances (including a Theatre World Award-winning one for his debut here in Kenneth Lonergan’s This Is Our Youth), is only now getting around to his Broadway debut. He came close to making it in the role that made Gazarra an unalloyed star—Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—but negotiations fell apart at the last moment. His role, Moe Axelrod, the oddly sympathetic roue who wants to rescue our heroine from her humdrummery, was originally played Luther Adler, the brother of his acting teacher, Stella Adler, who originated the Bessie role. And, by way of thanks, he appears in the documentary on Stella Adler. “I worked with her several times out there [in California], and she let me have it a few times,” he recalled affectionately. “I loved her.”

Eisenberg didn’t bother to downplay the joy he was having with his role. “I had a blast, an absolute blast, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t really been working on it. We were in the rehearsal room for three and a half weeks, and the entire preview period has also been very intensive. We’ve been changing things day to day and finding new things and having an epiphany and saying ‘Let’s do it that way.” Each night was a different thing.”

Hadary actually wears his happiness with this assignment via his new chrome dome. “I offered my pate,” he admitted cheerfully. “There’s less hair up here than used to be. I shaved it off. There was really no other way. The character’s bald. He has a line or two about losing his hair and becoming bald, so bald was what was called for. And here I am!”

The gangly Schreiber is abundantly aware of the star that first shot out of his character: “Jules Garfield,” he piped up knowingly. “Should I be knocking on wood at this point?

“The role is a monster. The arc of the character is massive. Every night’s an adventure.”