In the Book and Literary World

Three Plays: Awake and Sing. Waiting for Lefty, and Till The Day I Die. By Clifford Odets. 256 pp. New York: Covici, Friede, Inc. $2.50.

The Pulitzer Prize awards have just been made, and have ###tirred up the usual hornets’ nest of criticism and discontent, specially in the case of the play award. The dramatic critics and other theatregoers of responsible opinion have been unanimous in placing Clifford Odets’ plays, especially “Awake and Sing,” high among the candidates. Brooks Atkinson, for instance, has written in the Times that Clifford Odets is a dramatist of exciting potentialities, and the only one that the past season has disclosed. All this would be strictly the business of the theatrical columns were it not for the fact that Mr. Odets’ work has, beyond its dramatic values, a great literary importance. For a potent and discerning interpretation the modern temper should be recognized, whether it be in ###e form of a play or a novel.

“Awake and Sing” is a penetra###ng study in the Chekhov manner a Jewish family in the Bronx offering in the throes of the de###ession, Mr. Odets, although born.

Philadelphia, has lived in the #ronx for twenty years, and what ### has really written is a folk play Jewish life there.

There have been many realistic ays about Jewish family life, but ###ne which gets so close to the art of the matter as this story the Bergers, three generations them, all at loose ends, proud, offering, continually defeated, and ###t always demanding more of life an it is willing to grant them. Mother Berger is a fortress of ### rectitude, a tyrant whose ###e ambition is to preserve her ###me. To accomplish this she is ten cruel towards other members her family, who, motivated by ###e same hot yearning for something they have not, turn that year###ng to other directions. Her aging ther-in-law, Jacob, is a student of revolution and a lover or the great ###ts, and yet she will not permit ###m to play his Caruso records because so much noise is not respect###le. Her son, Ralph, is more tho###ughly her victim, for she tam###rs right and left with his life the name of her false gods. Her ###ughter, Hennie, is an unhappy ###d rebellious girl who tries to es###pe the dreary deprivations of her ###me through the license of the ###zz age. She precipitates the first ###isis of the play by admitting that ###e is about to have a child, and fusing to reveal the father. This ###ent focuses the minds of all the ###ding characters, even of Myron, ###r father, an amiable bungler, ###on their unfulfilled needs and de###es.

### there on events move rapid### depression closes in; from ### member of the family is tak###e little that he has. Ralph los### his girl, Hennie marries the ###ong man, Jacob commits sui###e, and still Bessie’s home is not ###ved. The mere outline does not this play justice, for the surface ###ents are illuminated by Mr. ###et’s perceptions of the aspira###ns and defeats which are the ###mmon lot of so many lower-mid-###-class Jewish families.

“Till the Day I Die” is a bril###nt excoriation of the Nazi re###ne in Germany. Odets has taken major incidents from chapters Karl Billinger’s “Fatherland,” ###ed not so long ago. But ### novel was a mediocre if ###nest presentation of the well own facts of the case, the play a stirring and broadly human ###ma. Odets parades before us the ###-mania of the nonentities who ###e suddenly leaped into power in Germany, their vicious sadism, the disaffection within their own ranks, the many who would like to see a different order of things but have been terrorized into the consent of silence, and the heroic few who work underground against the time when their day will come.

The last play, “Waiting for Lefty,” is an exceptionally fine melodrama, depicting a mass meeting during the recent taxi strike in New York City. Under the stress of the violent conflict which the strike aroused, drivers and their families meet in a great hall. Their very lives are at stake. Meanwhile as the meeting waits for Lefty, the strike leader, various incidents of their past lives come to their minds. But Lefty never comes. He has been killed by the police while the meeting has been discussing further militant action under his leadership. The play is designed as “revolutionary drama,” and as such it comes off effectively, whatever one may think of its politics.

Mr. Odets’ plays should be read in book form as well as seen upon the boards. The time will come when every library will have a shelf of his plays, for he is the sole young American dramatist capable of filling O’Neill’s now rather empty shoes. And we may be proud that Mr. Odets owes no small part of his sensitivity and his analytical mind to his Jewish background. He excellently represents one aspect of the thing we always sense, but cannot more than vaguely define, the Jewish mind.

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