Kenya Granich /// Staff Writer
You’re in a dark room. An army of young men stands before you, bathed in flashing red lights. They kick over chairs, spew obscenities, convulse over microphone stands to the throb of an electric guitar. No, you’re not in a McMenamins.
This weekend, the rock musical Spring Awakening is taking Fir Acres Theatre by angst-ridden adolescent storm.
Based on the Frank Wedekind play of the same name, the show follows a group of schoolchildren wrestling with their budding sexuality in an age of intense repression – late 19th century Germany. “They are living, breathing, suffering human beings. Now.” It is important, however, not to just note the time setting and fail to recognize the characters’ present relevance, said director Štepán Šimek.
This is not the first dance Šimek has had with the show; as a fresh faculty member of Reed College in 1998, he directed the straight play, incorporating music and song into the performance years before Duncan Sheik got ahold of it. “They stole my idea,” Šimek joked. On the subject of theft, Šimek admits to “stealing” ideas from himself, adapting pieces of the Reed production for his current project.
For example, the entire stage is a chalkboard and characters often draw out their setting and props, a concept adapted from Šimek first round directing.
Šimek says he’s especially proud of his casting and the collaboration between himself and his actors, particularly his three leads. Theatre regulars will recognize William Jenks (’16) in the role of Melchior, but the stage also welcomes newcomers Journie Ma-Johnson (’18) as Wendla and Mason McClellan (’17) as Moritz.
The three perform the central story in a whirlwind of sexual awakenings, among the full cast of sixteen.
Cult followers of the musical will recognize moments of choreography true to the Broadway production, but guest choreographer Jessica Wallenfels made an effort to take this performance in a slightly different direction, favoring a looser, more improvised “street style” over the cleaner steps of the original. “She gave us a lot of liberty,” Ma Johnson said, “she wanted it to feel more natural and less strict.”
The balance between the naturalness of the body and the strictness of the culture is a major theme of the play, perhaps most illustrated by the adult characters, played by Emily Hodgson (’15) and Robert Amico (’15). They cackle from the shadows, beat their students with canes, and abuse their children. “I wanted to create them as a grotesque expression of adulthood,” said Simek. “The teachers are creeps, the parents are monsters. The children are the storytellers.”
This is the first musical to grace Fir Acres since Urinetown was performed six years ago. “I just wanted to do something that was very much alive again,” said Simek. “It’s heartbreaking. It’s beautiful. It’s important that you listen.”
Spring Awakening runs November 7th-16th, tickets are available on Fir Acres’ Facebook or department web page.