AWAKE AND SING! by Clifford Odets, directed by Dean Gabourie, with Don Allison, Danielle Bourgon, Heidi Weeks Brown, Adrian Griffin, Jim Jones, Keith Knight, Michael Proudfoot, Bruce Vavrina and Aaron Willis. Presented by The Co. at Equity Showcase (651 Dufferin). Previews to Friday (March 21), opens Saturday (March 22) and runs to April 6, TuesdaySunday 8 pm. $15-$25, half-price Tuesday. 416-533-6100. Rating: NNNNN
Like a circus artist with a mission, Dean Gabourie has become expert at juggling social concerns and theatre.He's been a social worker on the street, founded Acme Theatre in the 90s and recently folded it into The Co., which he co-helms with Adrian Griffin.
Audience/Unveiling/Protest, The Co.'s first production, was a clever blend of three short pieces by Vaclav Havel. It became the calling card of a group that wants to stage work that's striking both in its creative process and in its themes. The Co. has been invited to take the piece to the Czech Republic next fall.
Its current work is Awake And Sing!, Clifford Odets's 1935 play that offered hope to audiences caught in the Depression.
"It hit a chord in time and place, proving that politics and theatrical energy can unite powerfully. Shows like this changed the face of North American theatre," says Gabourie.
In Awake And Sing!, which follows the life of a poor Jewish family in New York City, the uncertain economy, an unexpected pregnancy and the pressure of dysfunctional family politics feed a mood of repressed anger and dreams of a better world.
The language may be dated, but the situation and feelings ring true today.
Gabourie, with his youthful face and slightly torn pea cap, looks like a 30s street kid whose energy is gonna take him places.
His ideas and anecdotes -- about Treat Williams, Robertson Davies's widow and the power of working with an ensemble cast -- leapfrog over each other as he talks and his passion builds. His hands are all over the place and his face lights up.
"There's a naïveté in Odets's politics but a vitality in its presentation. His gift was to take street vernacular, give it a poetic ring and put it on the stage. Without Odets there'd be no David Mamet."
The Zen-influenced Gabourie, who grew up in the Jane-Finch corridor and has done everything from crisis intervention to working at Stratford, began as an actor before moving to the director's chair.
In fact, when he first got a call from Stratford, he didn't return it because he thought they were trying to sell him a subscription.
Gabourie went on to direct a show at Stratford's new Studio Theatre last summer and was sent by the festival last fall to study directing in England. There, he reconnected with thorny British playwright Howard Barker, who'd earlier pushed Gabourie toward directing.
The work Gabourie and Griffin are doing with The Co. members is process- rather than product-oriented. He hopes Awake And Sing! -- "a play that means something" -- will have an improvised, organic quality as its strong story unfolds.
"Barker compares theatre to the grain of sand in the oyster's gut that creates a pearl of wisdom. The key thing for us is to pass on that pearl, to communicate with an audience on any level. If art is what we've got, we're going to use it." email@example.com