Channing plays Bessie Berger, the strong-willed matriarch of a lower middle-class, three-generation Jewish family living in a Bronx apartment during the Great Depression. She’s joined in the ensemble cast by Jodie Whittaker (recently seen with Peter O’Toole in the film Venus), Trevor Cooper, Paul Jesson, Nigel Lindsay, Ben Turner and John Rogan. The play’s limited season at the Almeida continues until 20 October 2007.
Stockard Channing is best known internationally for her screen work including, early in her career, playing Rizzo in the film of Grease and, more recently, Abigail Bartlet, wife of Martin Sheen’s US president in American TV series The West Wing. However, she started her career in the theatre and has continued to appear regularly on stage with numerous Broadway credits including A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, for which she won a Best Actress Tony Award. Her last major London stage role was in John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation (transferred from the Royal Court to the West End’s Comedy Theatre), which she also performed on Broadway and on screen (for which she was Oscar nominated).
While critics welcomed Stockard Channing’s London return, they disagreed as to whether she is perfectly cast or miscast as the domineering Jewish matriarch of Awake and Sing!. While some felt that the actress is too “manicured” and “well-dressed” to be plausible in the role, others decided that she used these traits to successfully work against type in a “sly” and “understated” performance. In supporting parts, Nigel Lindsay and Jodie Whittaker both made an impression with critics. Even if Odets’ political stance itself has dated, most deemed that Michael Attenborough’s revival shows the play itself off well. There was particular appreciation for Odets’ quirkily colloquial dialogue and its delivery.
- by Terri Paddock