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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Theater Review: Winter’s unforgettable Spring Awakening

Due to the recent pop rock rendition of Spring Awakening that made its Broadway debut several years ago, most people are totally unfamiliar with the musical’s predecessor, the play Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind, written in the late 19th century.

Based on the artistic and honest direction of Mitchell VanLandingham and on the colorful performances of the cast, this fact is a tragedy. Having not seen either play or musical previously before, this raw experience to the material lived up to its hype, and found a target in me.

Before anything else is said about the production, I have to comment on the performances of the cast. This was truly astonishing work. Not only did these actors have to devote themselves to a role in which each character undergoes some form of trauma, be it self-inflicted or not, they have to transform themselves into several different roles throughout the play.

The sheer volume of lines to memorize alone is impressive, never mind the passion and commitment put behind these hearty sentiments. The chemistry between the two lead characters, Melchior Gabor, played by Michael Lutheran, and Wendla Bergmann, played by Elizabeth Tremaine, is so palpable that the energy took the play to an entirely new dimension.

I don’t mean that funny, sexual chemistry you see in romantic chick flicks, although that does exist here as well. I am talking about the chemistry between two actors who move around each other, emphasizing and enhancing the performance of the other.

This kind of dynamic is felt also between Michael Lutheran and Ryan Geraghty, who plays Moritz Steifel, a troubled and depressed young man, to put it mildly. His performance alone is worth viewing. The character undergoes an intensely dramatic transformation from a curiously anxious youth to a suicidal adolescent right before your very eyes, with perfect realism.

Every other performance is highly commendable as well, and deserves due credit. Everyone did a phenomenal job. I was more than impressed with the amount of talent here at UC Davis, and truly honored to watch it at work.

Beyond the performances, the best part of the play is its relevance. While you watch teenage boys ponder the arrival of sexual urges, teenage girls ponder … exactly the same thing. Despite being written 120 years ago, the play could have been written yesterday.

True, the translated Victorian language and slightly conservative costuming reminds the audience of the time period in which the play was written and takes place, but the content of the script and the issues that it discusses are still being questioned today. Rape, homosexuality, masturbation, and teenage suicide are all painstakingly familiar subjects in our “modern” world.

The stories moves through a kaleidoscope of captured moments, each featuring a different cause of teenage angst. Whether the anxiety derives from sexual development, or stems from parental pressure, or arrives in the form of an overbearing educational institution, nothing about this play feels outdated. In fact, the subject matter speaks directly to the audience about our biggest social problems of today.

More than merely a social critique, which it most certainly is, Spring Awakening produces a feeling of the personal, which cannot be faked. The inner turmoil the characters go through, the personal suffering, the confusion, the guilt, are all transferred onto the audience because we’ve all been there – in fact, we are there.

The starkness of the scenery (there isn’t any) and the black and white costumes move the audience to view the production in its baseness and most naked form. We are forced to see the dark potential in human kind, dared to understand the feeling of those in guilt, and asked to sympathize with those characters that the audience truly identifies with.

Honestly, there is not one emotion or situation a teenager could undergo left untouched by this production. For anyone who has ever felt like growing up is tough, this will resonate with you.

Spring Awakening opens tonight at Wyatt Pavilion and runs for the next two weekends at 8 p.m. with matinees at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets can be purchased for $8 at the Freeborn box office.

BRITTANY PEARLMAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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