Olney Theatre Center Spring AwakeningBy Jacob Kresloff • Feb 21st, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Olney Theatre Center: (Info) (Web)
Olney Mainstage, Olnet, MD
Through March 10th
2:00 with one intermission
Reviewed February 17th, 2013
The Olney Theatre Center kicks off its 75th season with its breathtaking and mesmerizing production of Spring Awakening. Artistic director Steve Cosson leaves his audience members speechless and humming the tunes long after final curtain.
An award-winning rock musical based on the Frank Wedekind play, Spring Awakening follows the story of children going through adolescence without parental guidance during the late nineteenth-century. It focuses on the budding relationship between Wendla and Melchior, two children aware and curious of their bodily changes, and Moritz, a youth traumatized by his sexual desires. In the musical, the three students and their fellow adolescent friends express their confusion, longing, fears, and desires.
Olney’s design of Spring Awakening honors both the expressionist nature of Wedekind’s play and the modern and presentational elements of the musical adaptation. Adrian Jones’ set design is minimal and Robert Wierzel’s lighting design uses effects from a rock and roll concert as its primary source of inspiration. Together, the designers created a set that makes seamless scene transitions an easy feat. As the musical progresses, chairs move around the space and different lighting fixtures drop from the ceiling to indicate location changes. The production’s approach displays the designers’ flairs for presentation; they make no attempt to conceal the orchestra or various lighting instruments. Wierzel’s design consists of spotlights and a frame of fluorescent and multicolored lights, stretching around the proscenium’s edges. The overall design allows the production to straddle presentation and representation without any trace of forced effort. Ceiling lamps and lights emulating natural sunlight fill the stage during the book scenes, while bright and multicolored lights flash before the audience when the actors sing. Jones continues to astound the audience by adding a few scenic surprises in the second act.
In both the musical and the straight play, Spring Awakening‘s dialogue explores the differences between two generations. Indeed, Sarah Beers’ costume design explores that generational clash. The two adults — played by Liz Mamana and Ethan Watermeier — are dressed in Victorian and colorless clothing to match their equally draconian viewpoints. On the other extreme, the children wear flattering school uniforms with small flourishes of color. Along the same vein, Sam Pinkleton’s choreography for the children results in an overflow of sporadic energy, while the adults move mechanically and rarely dance at all. Thanks to Cosson’s staging and Pinkleton’s choreography, the production never had a static moment.
Even though Spring Awakening is emotionally charged and almost painfully immediate, the cast all played their roles with authenticity and professionalism. From the principals to the ensemble, each actor — for the most part — truthfully explored different phases of adolescence. The actors’ transitioned between the awkwardly childish lines and the beautifully poetic lyrics almost effortlessly. Alyse Alan Louise was delightful as Wendla, particularly during her renditions of “Mama Who Bore Me” and “Whispering.” She captured Wendla’s sense of wonder and curiosity, gleefully joining her classmates in song with unbridled longing. Matthew Kacergis’ Melchoir was equally impressive; he approached the character with a balanced sense of rebellion, stoicism, and exuberance. Kacergis’ interactions with Louise were mesmerizing, their shared energy and tentativeness was nothing short of electrifying.
Special congratulations go to Parker Drown and Maggie Donnelly for their performances of Moritz and Ilse, respectively. Drown’s performance of the tragic hero was beautifully executed. Timid and vulnerable during his scenes, Drown let loose during his private moments, attempting to confront his feelings with precision and eloquence. His performance of “I Don’t Do Sadness” left the audience heartbroken and slack-jawed. Donnelly’s take on Ilse was a true delight. As the infamous bohemian, unaware of the immediate danger of her lifestyle, Donnelly’s timing was impeccable and she approached the role with tragicomic sophistication. Mamana and Watermeier also deserve recognition: they transitioned between adult characters with great distinction and without difficulty. Indeed, most of the production’s humor came from Mamana’s and Watermeier’s interpretations of the mechanical and tightly wound German adults.
My only criticism of the production concerns the scene with Hanschen and Ernst — played by Austin VanDyke Colby and David Landstrom, respectively — in the second act. During their homosexual encounter, the two characters act with honesty, fear, and excitement. Instead, Lanstrom slightly glosses over his character’s fear, embracing a more giddy and stereotypical interpretation. The scene therefore came across as somewhat campy, implying that their relationship was nothing more than a humorous commodity. In light of everything else, however, this scene did not diminish the production’s overall success.
The Olney Theatre Center’s production of Spring Awakening is simultaneously charming and mortifying. It would be a mistake to miss out on this experience, as almost everything about it is flawlessly executed and truthfully explored.
In the opening scene of Spring Awakening, the rock-music reimagining of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play, a teenage girl asks her mother how babies are born. Conditioned by a culture that uses shame, disguised as morality, to repress its people, the mother does not answer the question. These moments of silence and misinformation fuel the tragic events that follow. Fast forward more than a century to contemporary America, and adults and teens are still not talking about sex – at least not as openly, honestly, or as effectively as we could be.
Both the play and the musical address issues of their times — teen sex, suicide, child abuse, abortion, and the general difficulties confronting adolescents in an adult-controlled world. In a world that does not discuss sexuality, the children of Spring Awakening are left to their own resources of investigation. The boys and girls experiment with autoeroticism, homosexuality, and even sado-masochism. Wedekind considered this experimentation a natural stage in the development of human sexuality. What he saw as unnatural (and what he criticizes in this work) is a society, represented by parents and teachers, which avoids the discussion of sexuality. Wedekind saw this censored speech as the true perversion of bourgeois society in that it instilled anxiety and ignorance in children.
Frank Wedekind anticipated in his attack on bourgeois society the modern drama of revolt. Here was a man with no inhibitions, critical of middle class values, and willing to push moral, political, and social boundaries. In the microcosm of Spring Awakening, Wedekind presents parents and school authorities as automata, incapable of human feeling. The adults speak in pompous, meaning clichés, while the young people express their feelings with an awkward honesty.
Spring Awakening is beyond sex and controversial issues. It’s about the circulation of knowledge — how information, beliefs, and ideas are produced, exchanged, and, most importantly, questioned. Sheik and Sater blend rock music, contemporary slang, and poetry to remind teenagers and adults alike of the chaos, within and without, which is adolescence.
In a time when schools across the nation are weighing the value of abstinence-only sex-education programs, or fretting over whether or not to allow the distribution of condoms, Spring Awakening makes a passionate and deeply moving argument in favor of open discussion and the sharing of information. Although parents may instinctively want to protect their kids from the harsh realities of the adult world, the play firmly insists that when dealing with sexuality, ignorance will definitely not lead to bliss.
– Meghan Twible, Educational Fellow
Photos by Stan Barouh
- Wendla: Alyse Alan Louis
- Ilse: Maggie Donnelly
- Martha: MaryLee Adams
- Anna: Dayna Marie Quincy
- Thea: Gracie Jones
- Melchior: Matthew Kacergis
- Moritz: Parker Drown
- Hanschen: Austin VanDyke Colby
- Ernst: David Landstrom
- Georg: Chris Rudy
- Otto: Chistopher Mueller
- The Adult Men: Ethan Watermeier
- The Adult Women: Liz Mamana
- Ensemble: Samuel Edgerly, Ali Hoxie, Katie McCreary, Tim Rogan
- Melchior: Austin VanDyke Colby
- Moritz: David Landstrom
- Hanschen, Ernst: Tim Rogan
- Georg, Otto: Samuel Edgerly
- Wendla, Martha: Ali Hoxie
- Ilse, Anna, Thea: Katie McCreary
- Director: Steve Cosson
- Acting Technical Director: Charlie Olson
- Choreographer: Sam Pinkleton
- Musical Director: Christopher Youstra
- Costume Designer: Sarah Beers
- Set Design: Adrian W. Jones
- Sound Design: Will Picken
- Lighting Designer: Robert Wierzel
- Fight Choreographer: Casey Kaleba
- Production Stage Manager: Renee E. Yancey
- Dance Captain: MaryLee Adams
- Production Director: Dennis A. Blackledge
- Company Manager: Mackenzie Douglas
- Costume Shop Manager: Jeanne Bland
- Conductor, Keyboard, Accordion: Christopher Youstra
- Violin and Electric Violin: Patricia Wnek
- Viola: Andrea Vercoe
- Cello: Catherine Mikelson
- Acoustic and Electric Guitars: Kim Spath
- Acoustic and Electric Bass: Frank Higgins
- Percussion: Alex Aucoin
- Additional Guitar: Sam Edgerly & Katie McCreary
- Additional Orchestrations and Programming: Christopher Youstra
Disclaimer: Olney Theatre Center provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9160.
Jacob Kresloff is a recent graduate of Guilford College with a major in Theatre Studies -- history/literature track -- and a minor in German Language and Society from Rockville, MD. He is currently pursuing his interests in dramaturgy. He is currently the dramaturg for Field Trip Theatre's workshop and staged reading of local playwright Adi Stein's The Will. He is also working on several adaptation projects. Jacob's web site