Bartlett Sher Weighs in on Clifford Odets

Director Weighs in on Playwright's Background and His Own

Waiting For Righty: Actors spar in Clifford Odets’s ‘Golden Boy.’
Paul Kolnic
Waiting For Righty: Actors spar in Clifford Odets’s ‘Golden Boy.’

By Simi Horwitz

Published January 10, 2013, issue of January 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When boxer Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich) realizes his hand is shattered following a brutal match, he howls in pain, despair and also triumphant joy. It’s a stunningly powerful — and complex — moment in “Golden Boy,” now playing on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre, 75 years after a Group Theatre production of the Clifford Odets play premiered. The broken hand symbolizes Joe’s battle for liberation from his father’s values, and his own anguished ambivalence about a career in the ring versus playing the violin, his lifelong passion. But the culture does not value its artists, and, if nothing else, Joe is ambitious. With his destroyed hand he is now wholly free to follow a path that will bring money and fame, explained veteran director Bartlett Sher, who previously helmed Odets’s “Awake and Sing.”

Sher, who won a Tony for his rousing Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers’s and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” spoke with the Forward’s Simi Horwitz about the many conundrums in “Golden Boy” that Odets faced.

“He had moved to L.A. and was making $5,000 a week in 1936 and ’37. He came back to write this play because Harold Clurman begged him to,” Sher said. “He was already in the middle of wondering who he was. So, it’s interesting that he created this scenario between the violence of the boxer, who can destroy humanity with his fists or serve humanity as a musician. It’s an interesting metaphor.”

Simi Horwitz: Don’t you think there are authentic artists who are financially successful?

Bartlett Sher: Yes, but it’s a constant problem of management, especially if you’ve achieved some success. How do you hold on to your core values while addressing all of the pressures and anxieties that come with success? You may not even know you’ve stopped asking the question. You may just start making safer choices. When we were growing up, people said, ‘Oh, you’ve sold out.’ We don’t talk about that anymore. We see glee when someone reaches the top. That’s when people used to say, ‘You’ve sold out.’

What are the challenges in staging Odets in general and “Golden Boy” in particular?

Getting inside the truthfulness of the situation while making sense of the language, which is heightened and poetic. That’s a constant struggle with Odets. “Golden Boy” was especially difficult because it’s a sweeping story with eight different locations, a wide range of characters, and three or four plots. It’s not unlike directing Shakespeare.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.