awake and sing!

Renowned dancer/choreographer Twyla Tharp is celebrating her 50th anniversary at The Wallis in Beverly Hills. In honor of this historic event, in addition to four staged performances she’s reprising “The One Hundreds,” which originally premiered in 1970, as a free community event.

You could be one of the dancers! Get to the Wallis by 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 29, for this unique dance happening that will be performed by both the Tharp Company and 100 members of the community, followed by a reception.

Instead of the usual retrospective of greatest hits, Tharp has created four new pieces for this 50th anniversary tour: “Preludes and Fugues,” set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and “Yowzie,” set to a compilation of American jazz arranged by piano great Henry Butler and Steve Bernstein. The Wallis, along with four other performing arts centers across the country, co-commissioned these new works. Tharp’s appearance also launches the 2015-16 season of The Wallis.

There are four performances only, Oct. 1 – 4, which will surely sell out, so get the details today at www.thewallis.org or call (310) 746-4000.

Time-specific and timeless

It’s the season for anniversaries. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the premiere of “Awake and Sing!” by Clifford Odets, a member of the famed Group Theatre, who inspired the likes of America’s greatest dramatists including Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, William Inge and even Neil Simon.

On Sept. 26, the Odyssey Theatre honors the 20th anniversary of its first production of “Awake and Sing!” with members of the original cast and the original director. The play ran to sold-out houses for nine months.

Santa Monica residents, director Elina De Santos and actor Richard Fancy, are both returning, as is Brentwood resident Marilyn Fox. Twenty years ago at The Odyssey, Fox appeared in the role of the matriarch, Bessie Berger, heavily made up to look old enough to be the mother of two children in their 20s. De Santos, who’s directed “Awake and Sing!” in many venues across the country over the years, has always brought Marilyn Fox with her to play this role.

Fancy, who originated the role of Moe Axelrod, a boarder in the Berger home, in the Odyssey’s 1994-95 production, now plays the rich Uncle Morty.

Written and set in the Depression Era, the story of this family is, as De Santos says, “The microcosm of the macrocosm that was going on in the Depression and is still going on today in its own way. It tells us what poverty does to a family, and what it’s like to have a rich relative whom you have to obey and who reigns over you, as does the ‘1 percent’ in our country today who run the banks and companies that rule our lives.”

Influenced by the Group Theatre, Lee Strasberg and Harold Klurman’s approach to acting, De Santos says what distinguishes Odets’ writing is that “his characters talk like who they are. There’s a musicality to his language, an idiomatic quality that brings the psychology of the character into the dialogue itself. For Odets, language is behavior. He expanded the boundaries of stage naturalism; these people sound just like people you know.”

The play revolves around three generations of a Jewish American family, the Russian-Yiddish immigrant grandfather, the first generation mother of two second generation children, the struggle of poverty and of learning how make a difference in a world beyond the boundaries of the family.

De Santos says she’s been with this play for 40 years, having first read it in college. Although she’s not Jewish, “I grew up in the suburbs of New York, in a prosperous time, though my family wasn’t prosperous. I knew what loneliness was, and I understood lack, the longing for a voice, the feeling of being excluded and of being in a family that felt like a war zone. I know what it is to want to mean something, to want to know that I could be someone, and not knowing where to run to make the noise to stop. And that’s what it means to ‘Awake and Sing!'”

Richard Fancy believes that “When people write very specifically about a particular time, if they dig deep enough into character and plot, they find something that persists over time.”

Although their situations and worries are very different, the characters he’s played “are both self-involved people and survivors. Moe, the World War I survivor and a gangster with canny instincts, is completely focused on his own needs. And rich Uncle Morty, the millionaire, is aware of his status in the family and sees himself as generous, but also as someone who needs to maintain a critical mass of money so he can’t be too generous.”

“Awake and Sing!” says Fancy, is a play that, “could be a polemic but instead is real, vital, exciting and funny as hell. These people are so alive and so specific it’s like a cold bath. And while you haven’t heard people talk this way exactly, they sound just like your Aunt Judy.”

The 20th anniversary production of “Awake and Sing!” runs at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles from Sept. 26 through Nov. 29. Call (310) 477-2055 or visit www.odysseytheatre.com to reserve seats.

Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also written features and reviews for various publications.

Photo: (Left to right) Robert Lesser, Dennis Madden, Marilyn Fox, James Morosini and Allan Miller.

Photo credit: Ron Sossi

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