Hope springs in FTT’s provocative production of ‘Spring Awakening’
Catherine Barra | Tuesday, April 24, 2018
The Patricia George Decio Theatre is dark. The stage is set with a step-down extension. There are books, lamps, chairs and tables haphazardly yet carefully placed around the perimeter of the stage forming a carefully-created mess of school and household items. A looming scaffold adorns the back of the stage, under which the band plays. The whole scene is bathed in deep blues and bright reds, exuding the rock and edge, helping to bridge the gap between the 21st century and late 19th century Germany, when the show is set. The air is filled with anticipation.
This is the Film, Television and Theater department’s production of “Spring Awakening,” a six-show run from April 18-22.
The musical is a funny, awkward, devastating and passionate coming-of-age story about 15-year-olds that sometimes feels like a plot-infused rock concert. The actors, however, dressed in 19th-century garb, do a great job of bringing the past into the present, and make it clear that these kids’ stories are relevant to our contemporary culture.
Teagan Earley and Jorge “Jay” Donovan Rivera-Herrans play the leads, Wendla Bergmann and Melchior Gabor, whose lusty romance drives the play. Earley conveyed the perfect mixture of naivety and curiosity that eventually gives way to a heartbreaking end, shown particularly in the poignant song “Whispering,” when she realizes both the consequence of her night with Melchior and her mother’s disappointment. Rivera-Herrans displayed all of Melchior’s rebellious, intelligent and headstrong qualities yet betrayed his vulnerability when necessary.
Shane Dolan, as Melchior’s best friend Moritz, effectively portrayed the angsty downward-spiral of a teen boy who struggles with depression caused by tremendous pressure placed on him by his father.
Joseph Robert Blakey and Caroline Lezny’s performances as the Adult Men and Women were wonderfully nuanced. They tactfully differentiated all of the roles, particularly nailing the coldness of the headmasters. This performance contrasted well with Lezny’s portrayal of Melchior’s conflicted mother, who, though sympathetic and eager to help, is often misguided in her methods.
Savanna Morgan and Grace Weissend, who played Martha and Ilse, had a standout duet performance during the song “The Dark I Know Well,” about the sexual abuse they each face at the hands of their fathers.
Editor’s note: Grace Weissend is a Scene writer for The Observer.
Though typically played with sadness as the two huddle before a microphone, the performance’s direction allowed the actresses to take on a more complex tone, incorporating more anger and betrayal. Their bitter isolation proved devastating.
The entire cast had fantastic vocals that blended together very well, and the chemistry among the actors was palpable for the audience. The number that best exhibited their cohesion was the angst-ridden rock song “Totally F—–,” which takes place in the midst of the brewing chaos that begins the show’s climax. This number included all of the children in the cast as they ravaged the carefully-placed items on stage, throwing and breaking books and chairs. The furniture wreckage get removed, but the stage remains strewn with books for the rest of the show, and the actors have to navigate around the destruction in the remaining scenes, a symbol of the hardships they face due to their repressive, hypocritical parents and teachers.
“Spring Awakening” suggests the importance of sexual education, something that is certainly a contentious subject on our Catholic campus. But the musical does much more than that. The show, in the end, highlights how crucial it is for parents to communicate with and respect their children; and vice versa. It is meant to start a truthful dialogue between adults and their children, and I hope that this powerful and entertaining performance did so.