Also see Nancy's review of The Miracle at Naples
Though director-adapter David J. Miller and translator Reinhold A. Mahler maintain Wedekind's original story set in 1890s Germany, much of the adults' reticence from a century ago still resonates. By casting actual teenagers, Miller encourages authenticity for characters that are strikingly similar to young people you may know from your local high school.
While watching this production, it is disturbing to consider that 19th century Germany's lack of realistic education around issues such as pregnancy, abortion, sexual orientation and child abuse mirrors the experience of our youth today. Without adding any contemporary elements to their revival, Miller and Reinhold's Spring Awakening offers harsh criticism toward our detrimental prolonging of youthful ignorance.
This Spring Awakening appears in the round, a directorial decision that helps and hurts the production. It's important for the audience to be close to the action so we might claim responsibility for the lives affected within the story. Looking across the stage, we are able to see the reactions of other audience members in this shared experience of oppression. However, staging in the round is challenging. There are times when the movement becomes overly frenetic, possibly to prevent us from waiting too long to see an actor's face.
The entire young companyand their parentsdeserve praise for their willingness to tackle difficult material. The rehearsal process must have included some very important and frank discussions among the adults and teens involved in the production.
As Moritz, Carlos Rojas delivers a chilling and passionate performance of a young man who is haunted by life lessons delivered by his schoolyard mates. His extraordinary performance (enhanced in the second act by Judith Leonardo's make-up) is worth a visit to this show. Rojas is only a freshman at Boston Latin School; hopefully our city's theaters will continue to nurture his talent in future productions.
Although both of the other young leads bring talent to the table, the director's casting here seems off. Rebecca Stevens does not register as provincial enough to pull off the naiveté of Wendla. Paul McCallion is much sweeter than the brooding and rebellious Melchior, who questions everything around and within him. Gabe Goodman might have been more appropriate for Melchior. His provocative scene with Cameron VanderWerf is one of the best-executed among the many in which the ensemble members appear.
Ruby Rose Fox adds a delicious vocal texture that contrasts the less-worldly cherubic voices of her younger comrades. Her comedic timing brings much needed relief within some otherwise heavy moments near the end of the first act. But as we laugh, we sense her familiarity with the pain that lies ahead for both her and the other teens in the village.
Maria Mogavero, in a delightful portrayal of Wendla's mother, is both embarrassed by her daughter's birds-and-bees questions and dismayed by her own ignorance. Michelle Dowd as Frau Gabor is also a solid actor within the group. The remainder of the adult ensemble offers an uneven mix of performance styles at varying skill levels. Some of them are cartoonish and seem as though they are tailoring their physicality for a much larger space. With some playing multiple roles, I found it difficult to discern the differences at times.
The design elements are mostly good, especially the lighting by Chris Fournier, but there are some notable distractions. The garden setting by director Miller works well, but the green indoor turf is noisy and the seams are awkward, especially given our proximity to the stage. Period costuming by Krystal Bly is effective other than some much-needed safety pins to keep the suspenders in place. Sound designer Walter Eduardo should consider covering the actor's exit at the end of the first act with some music.
Peer back into the 1800s and learn something about how we treat our children today. Bring your teenagers or your parents, but be ready to ask and answer questions this play will inspire. Spring Awakening runs through May 9 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box, 539 Tremont Street. On Thursdays at 8 p.m., Zeitgeist offers pay-what-you-can performances with a $5 minimum. For tickets and information, call (617) 933-8600 or visit www.bostontheatrescene.com.