Review by Danny Gaisin
Change is difficult; change is normally resisted (oftimes vigorously); change usually evolves, rather than precipitates. The mid to late nineteenth century witnessed reformation in the arts, philosophy, science, and design. Frank Wedekind’s 1890 “SPRING AWAKENING, a children’s tragedy”was, and still is, controversial.
The lack of communication between generations was only the tip of what went unspoken or ignored. The book deals with incest, suicide, rape, homosexuality and masochism all from a pubertal view. Naturally, it was considered pornographic and the award-winning (Tony™ & Drama Desk™) musical by Duncan Sheik presented it with all the aberrant warts exposed. Theatre Sheridan’s Arts Faculty and director Greg Peterson demonstrate a belief in the maturity of the students [and hopefully, audiences], in bringing this viscerally impacting play to its stage.
The plot deals mostly with relationships. Many are unconventional and even the so-called normal interactions are rife with tensions and hurdles. The lead roles of Melchior and Wendla are performed by Jake Foy & Katie Kerr, (alternate productions – Carter Easler & Beth Robertson). He’s the intellectual BMOC, she’s the naïve idolizing ingénue and the chemistry between Foy & Kerr reverberates. Their duets- both sung & acted, explore teenaged angst; curiosity, and reflect hormonal vicissitudes. Foy & Kerr exhibit vocal talent plus thespian ability, and every movement is a dance. Amazing support is contributed by Andrew Case as the scholastically failing ‘Moritz’ whose nerves seem constantly at the precipice; and Emma Pederson portraying Ilse , who flees an abusive home for a Bohemian life. The role of ‘Otto’, is strongly interpreted by Andrew Perry whose Oedipal desires are indicated, but not patronizingly overdone. Another inter-generational affair is forcefully suggested by Calvin Labeck who craves making it with his teacher.
The challenging role of Martha- paternally molested, is amazingly and empathetically portrayed by Shakura Dickson-Scarlett. One wants to jump on stage just to offer her a consoling shoulder and a comforting hug. The duo of an arrogant Josh Blackstock and Christopher Webb as his lover Ernst is directorially no euphemistic hint. Their embraces show all but ’tongue’. Visually, the result hits like a surprise punch to the gut. The two adult teaching roles are surprisingly ham-handed…something unexpected from a directorial champion like Peterson. The rest of his supervision and counsel is meticulous and feels natural. The cast placement; focal changes and emphases are all a manifestation of superb artistry and certainly dedication. These characteristics are obviously contagious as the cast continually reflects them in their readings.
The modern-style set designed by Kelly Wolf appears at first to be just scaffolding, but clever neon lighting (by Bonnie Beecher), has created something imaginative that is never a distraction. She has devised a set-device that may appear simplistic but like any great painting; grows on the viewer. The orchestra is on stage but seated behind a gauze-like curtain. Fortunately, conductor Michael Barber and his four musicians never overpower the singers or soloists.
Staging such a controversial play takes cojones; by the administration; the director; and most of all –cast and crew. Peterson admitted to some trepidation; but in talking to his charges, their enthusiasm and contributory observations made his idea logical. The dialogue and lyrics are heavily flavoured with scatological terminology. The scenes are never euphemized and the subject matter – definitely ADULT. But if one can handle ‘mature content’ and appreciate skillful direction; acting; and dynamic choreography, (by Robin Calvert); SPRING AWAKENING is unmitigated & full-blown (pun intended) theatre and will be at Sheridan until Dec. 8th.
*note … Parking is now $3.00 & curtain time 7:30pm