Often dismissed as a left-wing polemicist, Clifford Odets has enjoyed a comeback of late. In his classic "Awake and Sing!," now in a fiery, superbly acted revival at Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles, he wrote about the American dream with as much compassion, humor and insight as any other major playwright.
The play follows a Jewish family living on the edge of poverty during the Great Depression (Kurt Wahlner's set aptly evokes their Bronx tenement). Son Ralph (Gregory Vignolle) and daughter Hennie (Lisa Barnes), both in their 20s, long to escape the clutches of their sadistically domineering mother (Marilyn Fox, in a frighteningly convincing portrayal). Yet money and social expectation have an insidious way of foiling their dreams.
Director Elina deSantos has shrewdly balanced Odets' political and domestic concerns, suggesting how the twin pressures for honoring tradition and making good can wreak havoc on an immigrant family.
Besides Fox, other standouts in the crackerjack cast include consummate showman Orson Bean, as the lefty grandfather who rages against capitalist oppression, and Richard Fancy as the cynical, one-legged war veteran Moe Axelrod.
* "Awake and Sing!," Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Sept. 25. $17.50-$21.50. (310) 477-2055. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.