SARAH GREEN — Copy Editor
Child abuse, homosexuality, suicide and a botched abortion—these are just a few of the controversial subjects the cast of “Spring Awakening” grappled with during the two-hour performance.
According to Southern’s website, “‘Spring Awakening’ is a rock musical adaptation of the controversial 1892 German play of the same title…[that] concerns teenagers who are discovering the inner and outer tumult of sexuality.” The play opened on the Lyman Center stage on March 2 and performances were held on several occasions over the next two weeks.
Based on the sizable turnout for the Saturday matinee on March 10 (a less-popular showtime), “Spring Awakening” seemed to find success at Southern.
The production began with a musical number entitled “Mama Who Bore Me.” Wendla (Sarah Nicastro), one of the main characters in the play, then proceeded to question her mother about how babies are conceived. Stuttering, her mother, Frau Bergman (Danielle Szymaszek), awkwardly and embarrassedly said a woman must simply love her husband to become pregnant. Thus the audience is introduced to the sexual ignorance—and teenage curiosity—that pervaded the performance.
Shortly thereafter, this strict, puritanical culture is emphasized yet again by a scene set in an all-male school. The students are forced to recite phrases in Latin and when one student, Melchior (Paul Falzone) speaks out, he is beaten by the teacher with a wooden staff. This example of physical in-school punishment occurs as the actors sing “All That’s Known.” Highlights from the song included the lyrics, “All they say is ‘Trust in what is written’” and “Nothing is okay unless it’s scripted in their Bible.”
This song marks the true beginning of the “awakening” in the play. One of the other schoolboys, Herr Stiefel (David Kowal) brings up the topic of wet dreams. Naively, Stiefel speculates, “Some dark part of my destiny may lie there between them.” Based on his gesticulations, it is obvious that what he is referring to lies between a woman’s legs.
As the performance progressed through the first half, other memorable scenes included a young man masturbating on stage and an impassioned musical number in which Martha (Jessica Myers) and Ilse (Rebeca Muniz) sing “The Dark I Know Well,” a piece about being sexually and physically abused by their fathers. “You say all you want is just to kiss goodnight,” Myers cries. “Then you hold me and you whisper, ‘Child the Lord won’t mind.’”
Just before breaking for intermission, Wendla and Melchior met secretly in a hayloft. Nicastro and Falzone do an incredible job tastefully acting out the subsequent scene in which they consummate the relationship that has been building between the characters Wendla and Melchior since the beginning of the play. Nicastro simultaneously conveys Wendla’s conflicting desires and uncertainties, and Melchior responds to her concerns, crying, “We’re not supposed to what? Love?”
The reactions of several of the audience members during the intermission clearly reflected the nature of the play. Haley Smith, a senior sculpture and art history major decided to attend the performance without knowing much about the plot or back-story. “I saw it with a fresh start,” Smith said.“It’s an amazing production so far.”
Smith was also pretty impressed by the content of the play and the number of controversial issues that were covered. The relevancy was also a major factor that she noticed: “It still contains contemporary issues—teen pregnancy, growing up, responsibility.”
Miguel Benitez, a junior ceramics major, said he had some idea of what to expect from the performance. Yet even he was surprised by the depth of the content.
“I didn’t know there were hints about deeper subjects—like rape, sexuality, suicide,” he said. “There is more to it than I expected.”
Damian Currier, an SCSU student who attended the performance as part of a class requirement, was a little confused by the choreography, but nevertheless thought the play was going really well. “The performers are doing a really great job with it,” Currier said. “I’m really sort of enjoying the story.”
The show picked up right where it left off with Wendla and Melchior post-coitus. The second half proceeds rather quickly through Herr Stiefel’s suicide and Melchior’s consequential dismissal from school.
The headmasters’ denouncement of Melchior is interrupted by the song, “Totally Fu**ed.” During the intermission, Rick, the father of one of the actors, said he had attended the show on a previous night and was looking forward to hearing this particular number again.
Falzone belts out, “But you’re fu**ed if you speak your mind … you can kiss your sorry ass goodbye!”
After Melchior is sent off to a reformatory, the audience learns of Wendla’s pregnancy and subsequent botched abortion. Melchior considers suicide when he discovers Wendla has died but apparently reconsiders after being visited by the ghosts of Wendla and Stiefel.
The cast received a standing ovation during their curtain call, and the overall response to the performance was positive.
Katie Johnstone, a SCSU freshman, said she enjoyed the play in its totality. When asked if she had a favorite part, Johnstone simply responded that she “liked it all.”
“I like how Southern wasn’t afraid to go with a really risqué show,” Johnstone also said.
One parent in the audience thought that “Spring Awakening” was a great selection because of a number of reasons—including its relevancy because of the current political debate about contraceptives.
“It’s very relevant,” she said. “[And] it still will be in 50 years.”
A captivating production that causes audiences to not only consider the societal standards and hypocrisy of the past but also to question these issues in modern day culture, “Spring Awakening” is by no means an easy play to perform.
Stephen Blake, a junior theater major who played Ernst, one of Melchior’s schoolmates, admitted that “Spring Awakening” was one of the more challenging plays he’s been in.
“It really challenged me in the sense that I was playing a homosexual character not having ever played one before or being homosexual myself,” Blake explained. “It was difficult to connect with the character, Ernst, at first because of that and because the play took place in 19th century Germany where that would have been even much less accepted than it is today.”
The controversiality of the play was a factor as well. “Knowing you’re going to get a lot of negative feedback based on what you’re doing on stage made playing the character a bit more difficult than the usual portrayal,” Blake said.
Despite these challenges, Blake said that the experience as a whole was rewarding. According to him, the best part of the experience was “getting to know the cast members and growing as an ensemble. This group was one of my favorite casts of any show I’ve been in.”
Danielle Szymaszek, a sophomore double major in theater and communication disorders, played Frau Bergman, the mother of Wendla. She reiterated Blake’s feelings about the cast: “We formed a family that really listened and cared for each other both onstage and off.”
So what was the best scene from a cast member’s perspective? “The song ‘Touch Me’ and the scene leading into it,” Blake said. “On the outside it’s a really beautiful song, and when you dive into the lyrics you see the kids really trying to express something they’re trying to understand about themselves.”
Szymaszek really felt that the audience appreciated the cast’s efforts and felt their emotion during the performance. “The show had both funny and very serious qualities to it, which the audience members reacted to with laughter, shock, awe and applause,” she said.
The cast and crew of SCSU students managed to convey every controversial issue professionally and passionately; their standing ovation was well-deserved.