Monday, October 1, 2012

Coterie "Spring Awakening" review by kellyluck

The More Things Change... Rating: 4
Spring Awakening
The Coterie Theatre

As this reviewer left the Coterie Theatre after viewing the Sheik & Sater revision of Frank Wedekind's "Spring Awakening", she could not help but wonder what Herr Wedekind would have made of it. He first published his play back in 1891, at a time when issues like child abuse, abortion and suicide were simply not addressed on the legitimate stage. And now, here is his play, adapted for the modern age, newly revitalized and being performed at, of all things, a children's theatre. Would he be gratified that his work has endured so well, or concerned that in over a hundred years time, the progress on these issues has been so minimal?

The story goes as follows: Wendla (Caroline Elizabeth Drage) tries unsuccessfully to get her mother (Shelley Wyche, playing all the adult women) to explain to her the birds and the bees. After a rather unsatisfactory non-explanation, she winds up meeting up with Melchior (WIll Amato), the smartest pupil in the Boys' School. Indeed, so smart is he, that when his friend Moritz (Noah Whitmore) confides he is disturbed and confused by the urges coming through his body, only he is able to explain the ins and outs of sexual health to his friend. Melchior and Wendla hit it off immediately, and it isn't too long before their love is consummated.

Unfortunately, the adults find out and Melchior winds up in a reform school, and Wendla taken to bed with "anemia." From here, things go downhill fast. Moritz, faced with the disgrace of academic failure, takes his own life. Wendla's mother takes her to a back-alley abortionist (Hughston Walkinshow, playing the adult men), who proves to be insufficiently good at his job. Mix in other students' tales of incest and homosexuality, and you have a story that even today is every bit as controversial as when it was first banned from the German stage.

The performances are generally excellent, with the mostly-young cast singing and acting extremely well. I regret that Amato is not the strongest singer in the company, but his strength as an actor helps make up for this. On the other hand, Steven Eubank as Georg had an excellent singing voice, as did Shelby Floyd, who turned in a most entertaining performance as the rebellious Ilse. Wyse and Walkinshaw are kept busy throughout the production, switching from parents to teachers in an endless parade of ineffectual authority figures. The songs are quite good, moving from touching to rebellious as the need arises. It is regrettable that the music is not performed live, but perhaps to make up for it, special abstract animations have been created to accompany the musical numbers. These can easily become a distraction but for the most part here they complement the performance on stage, and are quite interesting in and of themselves.

Besides the video work, there were other aspects of the production that drew this reviewer's notice. The play is paced briskly, with the choreography of the musical numbers being used to deploy seamless scene changes. Characters enter and exit via the audience, and sometimes linger off the side of the stage, dangerously close. Not for us, because of the safety of the fourth wall. The stage is set catwalk-style, allowing for a very much theatre-in-the-round experience. The set (designed by Shea Coffman, who also plays Hanschen, one of the gay students) is very interesting, with pride of place being a large artificial "tree" in the corner. We took the opportunity to examine it after the production, and it is an impressive piece of work.

All in all, this is an intense bit of work that is quite skillfully brought to life by the performers. This reviewer can remember her days of attending Children's Theatre, and they were nothing like this. The play is part of the Coterie's "Coterie Nights" series, in which stories for more mature audiences are shown in the evenings. This reviewer, falling into the same "just for kids" trap as so many others, had up til now passed on these works, until she was highly recommended to check them out. And now, she's very glad she did. The Coterie is not the kiddie theater you remember, there's a lot going on and it's definitely worth watching.

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