In a surprisingly intimate production for its Page Commons location, this past weekend Powder and Wig’s Spring Awakening impressed audiences and tackled difficult issues with grace. Spring Awakening, a 2006 musical adaptation of the 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, explores the confusing emotions of teenage sexuality, including puberty, and the lack of sex education in the setting of late 19th century Germany.
There was a list of mature content and trigger warnings on the small playbill, including sexual adult content, adult language, and suicide. It’s a tall order, especially for a small cast tasked with the responsibility of handling these themes with the respect and seriousness they deserve. While the production lacked the energy and exuberance typical of these sexually-repressed characters who bear their souls through song, the show was delicately handled, well-harmonized, and a genuine pleasure to watch.
The rigid laws forbidding critical thought and freedom were enforced by a formidable Emery Lawrence ’17, playing Adult Man, the overbearing patriarchal figure appearing as the schoolmaster, priest, and various father figures. Together with Adult Woman, played by Kelsey Book ’18, the pair played compelling foils to the unhappy teenagers, who were themselves repressed in a completely different fashion. The teenagers were told that their urges were unnatural, and they therefore hid these urges. Chris Collmus ’19 played a sweet Melchior, the boy intent on educating and helping his friends with information about sex, and also exploring his sexual urges with the naive Wendla, played by Jenna DeFrancisco ’19. Justin Lutian ’18 as the tormented Moritz played his part with disheveled distress, and handled his character’s suicide with poignant grace. Other notable mentions are deserved by Dylan Shaw ’19 and Cole Walsh ’19 as Hanschen and Ernst, respectively, as they performed one of the only happy moments in the show. Their scene dealt with exploring one’s sexuality, with a sweet pure timidity
Director Katie Monteleone ’18 had always wanted to put on Spring Awakening. “I think Spring Awakening is such an important show to perform in college because it deals with many relevant and difficult issues that people our age deal with every day; the show addresses exploring one’s sexuality, dealing with mental health issues, teenage suicide, rape, physical abuse, and many other topical issues,” Monteleone said. Indeed, even in today’s society, sexual repression and condemnation manifest in hate crimes and antiquated discriminatory laws. Students on college campuses across the United States march in protest of poorly handled sexual assault cases. It was eerie to watch so much drama and pain unfurl in two hours, especially when aspects of modern society were echoed in the confines of an antiquated society.
There was an incredible amount of talent in the tight-knit cast; difficult harmonies blended with ease and the cast, for the most part, worked well together. Group numbers like “Totally Fucked” showed the passion, energy, and unbridled frustration we needed to see, while “The Word of My Body” was just the right amount of curiosity tinged with innocence.
A lot of heavy material was covered in a relatively short amount of time and in an intensely emotional fashion. As Monteleone said in her director’s note in the playbill, “Whether we are in Germany in 1891, or the United States in 2017, we can ask ourselves—why don’t we talk more openly about sex and sexuality? Why do children too often absorb the notion that sex and their bodies are things of shame, rather than things to celebrate and explore? Why is there such a stigma against mental health and talking about how we feel?” In Spring Awakening, we saw heart-wrenching consequences to stifling sex education and acceptance, and it’s a timely reminder to make sure that we do all that we can to move forward. We must move past sexual shaming, oppression, and chastising. We must work to ensure that we have a more equal, welcoming society, rather than one interested in stifling basic human rights and needs, and this production shared this message with passion and truth.