12 arts days of Xmas: Day 3

Day 3: It's unlikely that I'll ever get a chance to see Clifford Odets' 1935 drama "Awake and Sing!" on stage. It's even more unlikely that I'll see it cast with the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Jan Kaczmarkek and Ben Gazzara.

But I've experienced that landmark play during my commute over the past few days thanks to L.A. Theatre Works and its outstanding audio theatre collection on CD.

I've mentioned LATW before in my columns and I'll mention them again. I don't know of any theater group doing more to preserve and make available great, engaging plays. What LATW does is gather top-notch performers for script-in-hand readings in front of live audiences.

These plays are recorded for broadcast and are available in an unbelievably extensive catalog, ranging from Sophocles to David Mamet 

Favorites of mine from the back list include Paul Giamatti and David Strathairn in "The Rivalry", a thrilling dramatization of the Lincoln/Douglas debates; "Fired: Tales of Jobs Gone Bad" featuring hilarious stories of being let go by the likes of Charlayne Woodard, Dana Gould and Paul F. Tompkins; and a surprisingly strong grouping of Ed O'Neill, Harry Hamlin, and Mary McDonnell in Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge."

Sometimes, unknown titles completely surprise me, such as the medical research drama "Secret Order," involving the backstabbing research of a new cancer drug. It's part of LATW's Relativity Series of science-themed plays that also includes "Fake" (about the Piltdown man skull discovery) and "The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial" (with Ed Asner and Mike Farrell).

Newer titles on my looking-forward-to-hearing list include "RFK: The Journey to Justice," Lynn Nottage's "Crumbs from the Table of Joy," Moliere's "Tartuffe" (with Brian Bedford) and Bruce Davison and Marsha Mason in Neil Simon's "California Suite."

Most run $16-$26 on the LATW website, www.latw.org. But the site also generously offers some older titles and used copies at lower prices.

If you really want to make a theater lover and/or long-distance traveler, consider a purchase from the Playwright Collections, including a 20 CD Neil Simon Collection or a 16 CD George Bernard Shaw set. 

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