Spring 1990 179 Clifford Odets's Dog of Betrayal:Awake and Sing!in Performance Robert Skloot From the early agit-propWaiting For Leftyto the last parableThe Flowering Peach,a look at Clifford Odets's work for the stage over two decades reveals one theme whose appearance could be called an obsession. This unifying theme is the key to understanding Odets as a writer and, equally important, is of great use in directing Odets for performance. Examining how it operates so forcefully in his greatest playAwake and Sing!provides guidance for the director who must concretize the stage images which are necessary if Odets's pervasive and propulsive thematic concern is to move and touch modern audiences. I refer to what I call (adapting Mr. Prince's phrase in Rocket to the Moon)"the quiet, biting dog of betrayal." In this essay, I shall explore how betrayal is at work inAwake and Sing!,and how a recent production sought to reflect that theme in performance. "... [T]he life of New York," wrote Robert Warshow in his famous 1946 essay "Clifford Odets: Poet of the Jewish Middle Class," "can be said at this particular stage in the process of acculturation to embody the common experience of American Jews. Clifford Odets is the poet of this life."1It is Odets's audience (as well as his subject) which is noted in Warshow's title, and its preoccupation with "getting along" within the competition of daily life that became the psychological place from which Odets began his investigations of personal and political relationships. What prevents us from "getting along"? What assists us? The same (if partial) answer to those questions always surfaces in Odets's theatre, at once limiting and energizing the stories of his characters. And, of course, to those who know the story of Odets's career, the Robert Skloot teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and serves as Director of the University Theatre. He has published numerous articles on modern drama and theatre. His most recent book isThe Darkness We Carry: The Drama oftheHolocaust(1988).
180 Journal of DramaticTheoryand Criticism betrayal he felt and so often participated in is a crucial, even central aspect of a troubled, notorious and frequently unwholesome life.2 From first to last, no play of Odets exists without raising the theme of betrayal. We need only look at the four plays of 1935, the year of Odets's extraordinary playwriting debut in New York, for evidence ofthis.Whether the union goons inWaitingFor Leftywill betray the rank and file, whether Lefty has betrayed his comrades (as Clayton, the labor spyhas),whether Edna will betray Joe as she threatens, or whether lab assistant Miller will betray his scientist colleagues as he is asked,--these are just a few ofLefty'sstories which are joined by his common theme. Ascertaining the truth of Ernst's sellout of the anti-fascist resistance is the entire dramatic interest ofTill The DayIDie, one of several Odets plays that end in a suicide provoked by betrayal. In ParadiseLost,