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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Free Play‘Spring Awakening’ blooms on stage

Published: April 8, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

When I’m in a sour mood, I blast “The B*tch of Living” and dance around my room, to the amusement and horror of my roommate; when I’m in a cloudy mood, it’s the melancholy and sweet “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind.” The songs from Duncan Sheik’s 2007 rock opera “Spring Awakening” seem so applicable to a young person’s life. When I heard that the Free Play Theatre Cooperative was putting on the original version of “Spring Awakening,” the German play that was Sheik’s source material, I was excited at the opportunity to see a 19th-century play whose themes continue to be relevant to a modern audience. Free Play’s production didn’t disappoint my high expectations, as it revealed the power of Frank Wedekind’s complex and dense script.

“Spring Awakening” focuses on a group of teenagers on the brink of sexual and intellectual adulthood living in a repressive village. Wedekind’s script is broad, covering issues from abuse and sexual ignorance to the academic pressures of school.

What is alarming is that what were issues in the 1800s continue to be issues that concern America’s youth today. When the characters on stage gripe about essays they haven’t started yet and tests they have to study for with pained expressions, I can’t help but be reminded of the kind of stressed-out chatter that infiltrates so many Brandeis students’ conversations. What makes Wedekind’s script so powerful is that the problems he raises are the kind that aren’t bound by time, but are part of growing up—when children attempt to discover who they will be as adults.

The play was a string of short scenes, connected by themes, rather than by a forward-moving narrative. Although the play focuses on the characters of Melchior, Moritz and Wendla, there were several scenes in which none of the main players took part. While this worked for the most part, at times it appeared extremely random. A scene featuring a first kiss between two boys, while sweet, seemed to be tossed-in. What made the short scenes appear even more fragmented was that the audience, having not been instructed to hold their applause until the end, clapped after each scene.

Wedekind’s script is filled with controversial topics such as abortion, suicide and juvenile delinquency. What could have been a clunky, stitched-together onslaught of issues is instead made realistic and human by moments of levity in the play.

This is helped by sophomore Yoni Bronstein’s spot-on depiction of Melchior, a budding brooding intellectual who becomes more and more skeptical of the world around him. When Melchior offers to explain to Moritz about their “masculine stirrings,” you can’t help but chuckle at his seriousness, just as you can’t help but be amused by Moritz’s (Dave Benger ’14) bafflement. These light-hearted moments make the tragic ones even more poignant.

Benger plays Mortiz as a person teetering between the edge of despair and the humor of life’s absurdities. In one scene, Moritz’s recounting of a tale told to him about a headless queen and a two-headed queen is funny at first, but achingly sad in retrospect.

One character, however, that struck me as one-dimensional was Wendla (Corrie Legge ’14). Wendla is a complete innocent. She revels in being a girl, ponders the mysteries of boys and visits the poor. She only has a dim idea of where babies come from—she’s ruled out the stork. Wendla doesn’t act like a teenager; she acts like a sacrificial lamb. While this is mostly due to Wedekind’s script, Legge emphasizes the character’s childishness by giving the character a babyish voice. While the boys seem like fully-realized characters, the girls are somewhat lacking.

Wendla’s innocence is connected to one of the play’s largest themes: The children’s unfortunate fates rest on the culpability of the parents. Wendla’s mother informs her that in order to get pregnant, you have to be very much in love (impossible at her age), which of course leads to negative consequences. Moritz and Melchior’s parents are equally at fault for what happens to their children.

While this presents an effective critique of a society in which the parents and school teachers pressure, lie to and manipulate the children, it does a disservice to the personalities of the children. Melchior may appear as a flawed, complex, independent individual, but many of the other children appear just as victims. Maybe that is the point. Melchior, during the time frame of the play, becomes an adult, while his friends for many reasons do not.

As far as the mechanics of the production, the staging was well-done. There were few props and Free Play appropriately let Wedekind’s words work their magic instead.

The Free Play Cooperative’s “Spring Awakening” was overall a moving play. There were scenes that were heartbreaking to watch that spoke to the strength of the source material and the talent of the actors. While there were a few missteps, Free Play has proven that the original “Spring Awakening” still has the power to speak to modern audiences.