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Awake & Singing, New Edition ,Edited and With an Introduction by Ellen Schiff
By Irene Backalenick

Theatre critic Irene Backalenick covers theatre for national and regional publications. She has a Ph.D.in theatre criticism from City University Graduate Center. Her book "East Side Story--Ten Years with the Jewish Repertory Theatre" (based on her doctoral thesis) won a first-place national book award in history. Other awards in journalism and theatre criticism include a New York Times Publishers Award (received while writing for The New York Times). Her professional organizations include the American Theatre Critics Association, Association for Jewish Theatre, Outer Critics Circle (on the executive board), Drama Desk, Actors Equity Derwent Committee, and the Connecticut Critics Circle e-mail: IreneBack@aol.com

Awake & Singing, New Edition

Edited and With an Introduction by Ellen Schiff

Published by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2004

Writer/scholar Ellen Schiff's new anthology, "Awake & Singing, New Edition" is a veritable treasure trove of information and entertainment. Building upon her previous "Awake & Singing," she examines six American Jewish plays which have set the tone for the genre, writing a searching introduction to each. Five of her choices have appeared in her previous collections, but Arthur Miller's "Broken Glass" is the new addition. The six plays range in time from Elmer Rice's 1931 "Counsellor at Law" to Miller's 1994 drama.

Most important is Ms. Schiff's overall introduction to the collection. Brilliant, perceptive, it carries the reader through the 20th century, providing an excellent, thorough introduction to the history and development of American Jewish playwriting.

The plays on hand, besides the aforementioned "Broken Glass" and "Counsellor at Law," include Clifford Odets' "Awake and Sing," Sylvia Regan's"Morning Star," "The Tenth Man," by Paddy Chayefsky, and Herb Gardner's "Conversations With My Father."

Why did Ms. Schiff single out these six plays? As she explains it in her note and acknowledgments, "The plays have proven artistic value. Beautifully written, they are good entertainment. They are dramatically vital on the page, as on the stage. All had respectable initial runs and have enjoyed recent revivals.
And she adds, "….they bring to life before our eyes many of the seminal events that shaped the American Jewish experience through the last century: immigration, family life and generational conflicts, the Great Depression, "making it" in America, encounters with anti-Semitism, the Triangle Fire, assimilation, two world wars, the Holocaust and Israel nationhood."

"Morning Star," by Sylvia Regan, she admits, was included simply because she liked it and felt that the little-known play, which had its brief Broadway run in 1940, deserved a revival in print.

Indeed Ms. Schiff has made wise choices. Each play vividly depicts a time and place to which we American Jews can relate. Each is a tribute to our immediate and more distant pasts.

Carefully annotated, with helpful bibliographical references, "Awake & Singing, New Edition" is both a textbook and a good read. It deserves to be on the bookshelf of those of us who love to read plays. But it also warrants the attention of students of Jewish theatre and of all who work to maintain the vibrancy of that theatre.
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Ellen Schif  Edited the first ever two volume anthology of American Jewish plays, AWAKE AND SINGING and FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLYING (Penguin, 1995 and 1996)Serve as consultant on theatre to National Foundation for Jewish Culture and member of its annual New Jewish Plays Commissions jury. Am co-editing with Michael Posnick an anthology of plays that have won the commissions and gone on to full production.
Serve as advisor to Austrian Jewish Theatre and board member of New York chapter of AAPY-MJS. Longtime member of the Association for Jewish Theatre. . Editorial Board Member of All About Jewish Thratre.

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