Odets Revival Hits Venice, Long Beach-
by Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Rocket To The Moon

The Jewish Journal – Odets Revival Hits Venice, Long Beach- by Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Clifford Odets burst onto Broadway in 1935, when three plays by the 29-year-old actor-writer – “Waiting for Lefty,” “Awake and Sing” and “Paradise Lost” – opened in the same year.Odets, the son of Jewish immigrants, was an early member of the fabled Group Theatre in New York, which combined left-wing politics with social realism to help bring American drama into the 20th century.Some 40 years after this debut, so conservative a critic as Walter Kerr of The New York Times classified Odets as the most talented American playwright next to Eugene O’Neill.By a happy coincidence, or astute sense of timing, there is a mini-Odets revival under way in the Los Angeles area, with two of his plays now on the boards in Venice and Long Beach.”Rocket to the Moon” forsakes the proletarian rhetoric of Odets’ early plays for a subtler probing of middle-class characters, caught in the Depression and the wearisome routine of their daily lives.”Rocket” is among Odets’ rarely revived dramas, which is our loss as demonstrated by the gripping performance by the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, teaming up with the West Coast Jewish Theatre.Set during a sweltering New York summer in 1938, the action revolves around Ben Stark, a dentist in an unfashionable neighborhood. He is a nice guy, as in “nice guys finish last.”He forgives payments from impoverished patients, doesn’t collect rent from his alcoholic partner and buckles under to his embittered wife, Belle, who is utterly frustrated by his unbusinesslike ways.His father-in-law is the dapper, cynical and wealthy Mr. Prince, hated by Belle and looking for some happiness in his declining years.In between long waits for patients, various people drop by Stark’s office for conversation and drinks at the water cooler. Among them are a podiatrist named Frenchy, partner Phil Cooper, Broadway impresario Willy Wax and Stark’s wife.Enter 19-year-old Bronx-bred Cleo Singer as Stark’s new secretary/dental assistant. She is pretty, bubbly, a bit klutzy, a bit silly and up-to-date on the current slang and stage celebrities.But she has one trait all the others lack: an irrepressible hunger for life and love, which forces those around her to reexamine the rut of their own existence.Odets’ pitch-perfect ear for dialogue is here at its best, and even the outdated slang comes alive again.In the background looms the Depression, but it is not hopeless and stifling. The nice girl comes through and even the nice guy is granted at least a fling at happiness.The first-rate ensemble cast, under director Elina de Santos and artistic director Marilyn Fox, proves that some of the most enjoyable productions in town are often found at under-publicized small venues.”Rocket to the Moon” plays through August 29th in Venice, call (310) 822-8392. Performances run Friday-Sunday.

Pacific Resident Theater