Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Awakenings!

This is a comparison and contrast dual review between Spring Awakening, the play in Philadelphia and the Broadway musical in New York City. (Oddly enough, I saw both productions with another Jules: the musical I saw with my friend Julie last November before it left Broadway; and the play I saw with my boyfriend, Julius, on our first date last December.)

I didn't write a plot summary of each, but if you're unfamiliar with the story, feel free to read the wikipedia page on the musical and the play.

The numbered points will correlate with their contrasting numbered point between the musical and the play. But first, the commonalities:


• Both have masturbation scenes, which are funny but still somehow wrong: the boy doesn’t have real privacy or permission to take care of a natural urge that all human beings have.

• Both productions included similar funeral scenes for Moritz: girls brought flowers and everyone paid him respects.

• Lots of dialogue from the straight play was lifted exactly as is into the musical’s lyrics.

• One surprising similarity between the two productions: Melchior reads from his diary. It seems to be the one connection between the two versions of the protagonist!


by Frank Wedekind, new translation by Douglas Langworthy

Directed by Lane Savadove

Set Design by Corey Lunchuck, Nick Lopez, and Bart Healy
Lighting Design by Matt Sharp
Costume Design by Jamie Grace-Duff
Sound Design by David Cimetta

Stage Management: Michele Woodward
Technical Direction: Dan Soule
Production Management: Eric Snell
Sound Operator: Salome Harmon
Wardrobe: Arcadea Jenkins
Backstage Manager: Devin Soule

Moritz Stiefel: Doug Greene
Wendla Bergmann, Dr. Procrustes, Straightjacket: Megan Hoke
Ilse, Ina: Brenna Geffers
Martha, Frau Bergmann: Sarah Schol
Masked Man, Otto, Herr Stiefel, Billyclub, Ruprec: Ross Beschler
Herr Gabor, Pastor Baldbelly, Robert, Diethelm, Tonguetwist: Rob Neddoff
Ernst, Dr. von Quakenseltzer, Flyswatter, Helmuth: Sean Lally
Hanschen Rilow, Frau Stiefel, Monkeyfat, Reinhold: Nathan Edmondson
Melchior Gabor: Kevin Melendez
Thea, Frau Gabor, Locksmith, Fetchit: Kelsey Malone
Georg, Sunstroke, Gaston: Andrew Gorell

This is a review of the production Philadelphia-based theatre company EgoPo did the year before their one-night-only performance that I saw on December 13, 2008. It has a few different actors, but the same vision.

Here is the facebook event for the night I saw it.

And here is EgoPo's facebook page, from which I lifted these photos. The entirety of the pictures are from the original production, rather than the one-night-only; but many of the actors also played in the latter performance.

1. The set was amazing. The first act presented itself with the entire stage floor covered by a bed of bright flowers. Not a single bit of hardwood floor or dirt was showing. There were tables and chairs brought out by the actors at certain times to serve as school desks, coffee tables at home, and the barn loft where Wendla finds Melchior alone. When Moritz dies, the flower covering gets lifted like two rugs by bars on the left and right of the stage, revealing fresh dark dirt below. The flower rugs stay hanging ominously on the sides, dirt-side facing the audience, looking exactly like the borders of a grave.

2. This production was obviously more experimental, as EgoPo tends to do. The actors were more expressive and complex as physical individuals (whereas in the musical they incorporate several over-the-top dances for motion). As a reviewer from The Philadelphia Inquirer stated about EgoPo’s play, “Choreographed with...a high-precision physical performance style.”

3. All the adults wore grotesque masks to symbolize their loss of innocence and/or their corruption and/or their perpetuating distortion of reality (depending on the character, it could be any or all of these). Even Wendla’s sister, only a few years older than Wendla but recently married, had a half-mask covering her eyes and nose.

4. When Martha confesses she is physically abused by her parents, her friends treat this revelation with shock, then confusion and disdain.

5. In the play, Melchior feels terrible for beating Wendla, but it just made him go on to become a monstrosity.

6. Melchior raped Wendla, not out of love but fury and berserk passion.

7. The abortion scene is freaky and memorable here as well, but in this production it’s very graphic. Wendla screams and writhes on the table as the suspicious doctor utilizes a terrifying, spiky, metallic machine for the abortion; meanwhile, Wendla’s mother stands by watching. Obviously, this depiction was much more terrifying and brutal, but it’s also condemning Wendla’s mother and the conventions of society more for putting an innocent child in this position and then just idly standing by while she dies horribly.

As you can see from the cast list, most of the actors also played slovenly, nasty professors (the names such as Sunstroke, Monkeyfat, and Flyswatter) but were totally unrecognizable in judge's robes and face-covering, monstrous pig masks. They not only wore twisted pig masks but also slobbered, touched themselves, snorted, grunted, wailed and carried on like the most inhuman, perverted creatures to ever walk the Earth. This was the scene in which they decided Melchior's fate, and it was actually one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Whenever the headmaster mentioned the words, "Our Institution," all the other professors raised up their arms and belted out one single high note like they were singing hallelujah in church. The headmaster preached like a reverend about upholding their high social and academic standards and gradually worked toward announcing the expulsion sentence for Melchior's daring to write an explanatory essay on sex. The rest of the professors, sitting down in chairs, were silent but overactive in the meantime, either twitching in excitement, panting, touching themselves or otherwise behaving in the most sexually perverse manner imaginable. The hypocrisy here was so shocking and bizarre that you can't help but laugh in amazement. There was also one minion named "Fetchit" who the headmaster kept summoning into the meeting to dispatch orders. Her repeated line, "At your command Headmasta!" as her jaw dropped open in mindless anticipation was actually strangely endearing. This entire scene is one of the best in the whole production and obviously conveys in physical form the director's unique vision of Wedekind's play.

9. The dinner scene with Melchior’s mother and father was one of the most interesting, suspenseful and surprising exchanges I’ve ever seen. They were arguing over whether or not Melchior should get sent to the reformatory. His mother, who did not believe he should be punished for the suicide of his best friend, was serving her husband dinner. He did intend for Melchior to be sent away, so throughout the scene his wife was yelling and throwing the food at him or pouring it on him in resistance—and he actually laughed at her and enjoyed this performance immensely. It was frustrating to watch for the mother’s sake, but it was really engrossing as a whole. In fact, I thought the audience couldn’t laugh aloud (except maybe once or twice as a nervous impulse) or even breathe during this scene, the actors were so riveting.

10. Melchior's escape from the juvenile correctional facility was prompted not by tenderness but because he wanted to come back and alleviate his guilt by taking responsibility for the child.

11. Melchior did not sob over the death of Wendla, because she was not truly his tender lover like the musical made them out to be. Still, he showed his vulnerability by being so disconcerted over the eeriness of the cemetery and the deaths. This Melchior was similar to the musical’s, however, in his disillusionment with humanity and the suffering good people go through in life.

12. The last scene in the graveyard was morbid, gruesome and brilliant. It was profound in its chilliness, with the bloody headless corpse of Moritz resurrected to speak to Melchior and try to convince him to join them. At other times, it was strangely lovely, with the exchanged glances between Melchior and Wendla when she lifted her placid mask of death. Melchior’s dance of indecisiveness with the masked man, who represented life, and his longing to rejoin his friend in peaceful rest were beautiful.

13. The ending was obscure and paradoxical. It was more realistic through its surrealism: the masked man, the headless Moritz at the back of the stage in half-light, and the bodies of the dead sitting on chairs with smooth, pure white, expressionless masks.

14. The actress who played Wendla, Megan Hoke, was perfect. She had an impish face and wide-open, bright hazel eyes constantly filled with wonder. Hoke also had a womanly, curvy figure, while her abrupt and playful motions as well as her impetuous curiosity were entirely childlike.

15. The actor who was Melchior, Kevin Melendez, is short, stocky and dark (very different from the musical's vision of the character).

• There were many mini-scenes going on at the same time on stage. One would be lit and acted out (like Frau Gabor wiring the letter to Moritz) and then the actor(s) would freeze there and the lights would come up immediately on the next scene (like Melchior stumbling upon Wendla or coming to meet Moritz) to create a solid pace and suspense.

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