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Review: 'Awake and Sing' is not Huntington's finest - Metro US

Review: ‘Awake and Sing’ is not Huntington’s finest

Will LeBow, Stephen Schnetzer, Michael Goldsmith, Lori Wilner, and Eric T. Miller in Clifford Odets’ stirring American classic AWAKE AND SING!, directed by Melia Bensussen, playing November 7 – December 7, 2014 at the BU Theatre / Avenue of the Arts. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
T. Charles Erickson

“Awake and Sing!” is a Depression-era story that, in the hands of the Huntington Theatre Company, looks a little too clean and shiny to pack its intended wallop.

James Noone’s handsome set feels more like a contemporary, freshly-painted New York apartment than the shabby, poorly-maintained fifth-floor walkup the Berger family kvetches about. Michael Krass’ costumes also feel a bit too well-tailored and on-trend for the threadbare bunch.

If you close your eyes, however, the shrill, nagging essence of this hyper-dysfunctional Jewish family’s struggle to survive is perfectly on point. But the characters have all become such borderline buffoonish stereotypes that none of them are even remotely likable enough to elicit any compassion.

If you’re not emotionally invested in their struggles and the next generation’s potential to “awake and sing,” what you’re left with are jokes about their mannerisms, tired cliches and a whole lot of yelling.

Lori Wilner has a near-headache-inducing demeanor for Bessie, the nagging, penny-pinching mother who schemes to hold the family together. But she is completely void of decency, so you often find yourself fighting the urge to scream shut up already.

Eric T. Miller is especially strong as Moe Axelrod, the bitter war veteran who lost a leg in battle, finding both likability and vulnerability just beneath the surface of Moe’s rough, thuggish essence. Miller and Annie Purcell (Bessie) enjoy one heartwarming moment as their characters opt for the possibility of a better life, but it’s a classic example of too little, too late.

Director Melia Bensussen misses the mark with both the look and feel of “Awake and Sing!”. The humanity disappears into the over-the-top delivery that, at times, feels a bit too influenced by Borscht-belt shtick. The humor should be mined, not made.

If you go

“Awake and Sing!”

Through Dec. 7

Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston

$25 – $99

617-266-0800

www.huntington theatre.org

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