Keegan Theatre Spring AwakeningBy Genie Baskir • Jun 6th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Church Street Theater, Washington, DC
Through July 8th
2:15 with intermission
$40/$35 Students and Seniors
Reviewed June 5th, 2012
Benjamin Franklin Wedekind was a free thinking libertine, incarcerated for his politics and censored for his social candor because he was in Germany and not the United States like his namesake. His 1891 play Fruhlings Erwachen caused a scandal across empires because of its frank discussion of sexual themes in an age of sexual repression and clandestine physical consummation combined with the social and religious doctrines of equating child abuse with love. Keegan Theatre is presenting the contemporary musical adaptation, Spring Awakening, with a cast of marvelously talented young men and adequate young women in an audacious illustration of sexual maturity in the face of societal denial and suppression.
Fruhlings Erwachen was adapted for the musical stage in 2006 as a frank and contemporaneous, but musically updated story about a conundrum of life that has many answers, none of them entirely satisfactory. In the face of the sexual themes, the show also deals with young men who are too smart for their own good and young women whose parental love may be measured in physical abuse and sexual molestation.
Yearning teenagers are a subject stretching back to the farthest reaches of antiquity and how the succeeding civilizations have treated this aspect of human maturation has not advanced over the epochs. The timeliness of the topics and the issues confronting today’s teenagers are not repressed; they are in fact too honestly represented on various MTV reality shows. But that is more necessarily a good thing than a return to the days of family humiliation with the honor of any family being bound up in a daughter’s chastity and virtue.
Wedekind’s young men awaken in the morning in a mortifying state with the consequent self loathing and shame created when emerging adults are denied proper instruction about life. The girls are carrying on with themselves, walking around caressing their own respective bodies and yearning for touch, any touch, and not understanding what is not right with them…when, in fact, everything is right with them. These young women are also denied the knowledge they depend upon the adults for. The society’s refusal and the adults’ failure to accept the nature of life and offer the youth proper instruction on these basics is the catalyst for heartbreak, catastrophe and the unnecessary ruination of young lives.
Wendla (Ali Hoxie) is an emerging woman troubled by the knowledge that there are things she doesn’t know and that no one will tell her. She is consumed with the physical desire for something unknown and the denial of answers makes the longing more profound. She has a crush on Melchior (Vincent Kempski), an insightful and advanced thinker whose precocity will be his downfall. Melchior knows the answer to the troubles his friends are facing and lets his friend, Moritz (Paul Scanlon), in on the secret in a sort of Gay Nineties schoolyard exchange of the secret information. It is Melchior’s not entirely innocent faculty that will send his best friends down the slippery slope to disaster and death. His secret erotic writings will be no less instantly inculpating than modern-day sexting on a Twitter feed. Everything old is new again.
It would be so easy to lampoon this story as just another parable about what to do with horny teenagers, but the thesis of this show presents topics, social and personal, that we all grapple with today. The sundry and anybody expounding upon the wish to return to some rose-colored good old days can find their delusions shattered by Wedekind’s frank illustration of the consequences of paternalism coupled with a brutal educational orthodoxy and reinforced by Duncan Sheik’s alternative musical score and Keegan’s fine interpretation.
Keegan Theatre embraces the shocking content of the story with an imaginative, yet Spartan, set (Set Designer Mark A. Rhea) that makes certain the spotlight is never off of the actors. Melchior is a sincere intellectual but Kempski transmits a decided disingenuousness and even a streak of contempt as he defies parents and teachers to find his satisfaction. This reviewer found him not so sympathetic at the end. The breakout talent in this show is Scanlon, reminiscent of John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten, founder of The Sex Pistols) in both appearance and performance. He is the class misfit, bullied by his teachers at school and by his father at home. Scanlon’s stage presence and vocals are phenomenal and he reflects Moritz’s agony over his seeming inability to do anything right coupled with his teachers’ vicious antagonism and reprisal towards him with the intensity that is the salvation of this story. Alex Alferov as Ernst and Gannon O’Brien as Hanschen pursue the alternative without guilt or fear of exposure because Hanschen has Melchior’s intellect without Melchior’s urgency to flaunt it. O’Brien plays with a knowing cunning while Alferov is completely unembarrassed by his desires.
The female cast whose respective virtue is the ultimate prize in the small town is adequate, but there are no star turns commensurate with the young men in this show. Hoxie is a sympathetic Wendla, but her terminal naivite leaves no room for a supposition of what just might be going on. The boys are being caught and admonished for having their hands in their pockets. Surely the girls must have been admonished in similar fashion for their curiosity before they advanced to enough physical maturity to become pregnant. They are all pretty and can sing and dance, but no special performances emerge and no one leaves any lasting memory. The imposition of conformity and uniformity on young females in the present era makes casting a roll of the dice because no one is really different from one another…or maybe that was the Directors Rheas’ intent. The concomitant adults, in all of their incarnations, were played by Charlotte Akin and Jon Townson, as interchangeable pillars of a deranged, censorious and injurious social system that denied the humanity of its children.
The other star in this show is the music direction (Jake Null) and the orchestra. The fine vocals were matched by skilled playing and the acoustics of the Church Street Theatre enveloped the audience in the music.
Keegan Theatre’s Spring Awakening is a worthy endeavor bolstered by an incredible male cast, top rate music and an artfully crafted century old story. The art of the language, at once explicit and poetic, combined with the kicking alternative music made for an appealing show. Go see it if you can.
Photos by C. Stanley Photography
- Adult Women: Charlotte Akin
- Ernst: Alex Alferov
- Thea: Cody Boehm
- Ensemble: Mary Kate Brouillet
- Ensemble: Sean Burns
- Martha: Sarah Chapin
- Ensemble: Emily Day
- Wendla: Ali Hoxie
- Melchior: Vincent Kempski
- Georg: Nick Lehan
- Otto: Stephen Murray
- Hanschen: Gannon O’Brien
- Ilsa: Nora Palka
- Anna: Lyndsay Rini
- Moritz: Paul Scanlon
- Adult Men: Jon Townson
- Swings: Mary Kate Brouillet, Sean Burns, Emily Day, David Rea, Colin Smith
- Directors: Mark A. Rhea, Susan Marie Rhea
- Music Director: Jake Null
- Choreography: Kurt Boehm
- Stage Managers: Alexis J. Rose, Lauren A. Miller
- Set Design: Mark A. Rhea
- Lighting Design: Allan Sean Weeks
- Sound Design: Jake Null
- Costume Design: Kelly Peacock, Shadia Hafiz
- Properties: Carol Baker
- Hair/Makeup Design: Craig Miller
- Vocal Arrangements: AnnMarie Milazzo
Disclaimer: Keegan Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8162.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.