Rutgers Theater Company presents "An Evening of Clifford Odets" Dec. 3 to 8

Can an artist enjoy commercial success without being a sellout?

An ensemble cast of actors explores this theme and more through the works of one of America’s leading playwrights in An Evening of Clifford Odets, running from Tuesday, December 3, through Sunday, December 8, 2013, at the Jameson Studio Theater.

As a founding member of New York’s Group Theatre, where Method acting originated, Clifford Odets’s playwriting career soared during the 1930s as he cranked out successful plays one after the other, many of which reflected his working-class roots and the turbulent American experience of the Great Depression years. Odets became torn between two worlds as his passion for his art intersected with the pursuit of a lucrative career. Was he losing his artistic soul?

“There’s a lot that Odets struggled with,” says Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the director of the play and a candidate for a master of fine arts in directing at Mason Gross School of the Arts. “The themes of selling out, living with integrity, economic struggles—they all ended up in his plays.”

But when Odets answered the lure of big bucks for screenwriting gigs in Hollywood, where he lived for several decades, his plays came infrequently and failed to capture the attention of audiences or critics—a storyline that ate away at Odets and became the subject of his play The Big Knife (1949).

In scenes from that play and six others, as well as biographical vignettes, the production explores the life and progressive politics of the playwright, a complex character whom the cast studied extensively through biographies, critical essays, and interviews with Odets’s Group Theater colleagues Harold Clurman and Elia Kazan.

“Part of what we wanted to investigate is the writer’s voice through multiple works,” von Stuelpnagel says. “When an artist is exploring his voice, what is the relationship between his life and what he’s talking about?”

The performance includes scenes from The Big Knife, Waiting for Lefty, Till the Day I Die, Awake and Sing!, Golden Boy, Rocket to the Moon, and The Country Girl. At the heart of the plays are Odets’s trademark blue-collar characters and catchy, poetic dialogue—and the ever-present struggle of cashing in and selling out.

“He’s my favorite writer,” says von Steulpnagel. “His characters are full of fire and flaws.”

An Evening of Clifford Odets runs from Tuesday, December 3, through Sunday, December 8, 2013, at the Jameson Studio Theater. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 for the general public, $12 for Rutgers alumni and employees and seniors, and only $10 for students with valid ID. The Jameson Studio Theater is located at 30 Jones Avenue, on the Douglass Campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick. For more information about any Mason Gross event, visit www.masongross.rutgers.edu or call the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center ticket office at 848-932-7511.

Posted November 2013