Friday, November 4, 2011

Spring Awakening Review

Last night I went and saw the preview to the play Ciera is in; Spring Awakening. This isn't the musical version. This is the dark and discordant, fractured and hilarious original play version. It explores sex, puberty, angst, and the dark world of the teen in a way I never thought of.

It portrays the teens in a painfully honest way—forcing the audience to chide the melodrama that unfolds while at the same time making us sympathize with children coming of age despite the adults' best efforts to prevent it. Local Jewell, a small community theater company, has put up the performance. And it is community theater. Sometimes the acting is stiff, other times overwrought, but on the whole the potency of the script shines through undiminished.

I had the benefit of talking to the director Christopher Jewell about his directing choices—over a couple beers after the preview—and got a glimpse into his vision of Frank Wedekind's surprisingly contemporary play. Christopher's overarching principle was to treat each scene in its own right. The farce of the parents; the romanticism of the teens in the woods; the giddy conspiracy of each scene as if it were plucked straight from memory, unpolished and untainted by the years of adulthood that inevitably casts a tone onto a time without one.

The strongest actors were by far the children; all tapping into an honesty that is contrasted by the deliberate shallowness of the adults in the play. The children play each scene with kindness to their characters—pursuing the uninhibited and illogical choices of adolescence without the trappings of an adult thought process. The children—are childish; they aren't dumb though, and ask to be taught about the changes happening to them. But the adults refuse, instead filling their minds with Latin and classics; desperately hoping that they can stave off the loss of innocence just another day if only they don't ask the most burning questions.

What I'm saying is that there was some really good acting in the play. There were some stand-outs. Zachary Simonson stole the show as Moritz, easily outshining Melchior in many ways. It adds a different dimension to the play to see the sidekick as main character and the main character as victim of circumstance.

And of course Ciera did an amazing job as Ilse; eliciting audible reactions from the audience with her monologue about her escapades with turn of the century avant garde German artists. In the scene Ilse tries to cheer up Moritz who is about to commit suicide. In a perfect illustration of dramatic irony, the scene plays out in a heartbreaking fashion.

And of course Amberlee Williams plays a simple and straightforward Wendla; a girl curious about her developing sex and denied all information by those around her. It is a cautionary tale for teachers of abstinence only education, showing the unintended consequences of trying to stunt a girl's mental development. It's impossible to keep kids from growing up and leaving them unprepared is akin to the severe beatings that the character Martha endures for seemingly no reason.

Ultimately the message resonates; people grow, die, and change. We make promises we can't keep, we discover things we wish we hadn't, but in the end life goes on. And we have to find the humor in tragedy, the honesty in lying, and the complexity in the simple joy of resting under a tree in the summer sun.