It takes a little while to adjust to the many German names and characters in Spring Awakening, written by Frank Wedekind and translated by Jonathan Franzen, but a little bit of patience is a small price to pay to appreciate this remarkable, controversial masterpiece at Connecticut Repertory Theater's studio theater.
It is difficult to believe Spring Awakening, about adolescent angst, rape, masturbation, sadism, homosexuality, and suicide was written in 1891, and not just because of the violence and the subject matter.
No, the amazing thing about this play is the fantastical, surrealistic artistry and stunning black humor, that was so far ahead of its time when written, and may still be too much for some.
Wedekind was born in 1864 to a young actress and singer and a much-older father who was a physician and political radical. They lived in Germany where Wedekind became a favorite of the bohemian set, writing the brilliant "Spring Awakening" when he was only 27 years old.
Wedekind also loved the circus life. In this play, creatively directed by 2004 Fine Arts graduate Joe Jung, they use fantastic distorted music that vacillates between psychotic circus-type songs to contorted music box melodies.
The parents and authority figures in Spring Awakening all wear masks, which works on numerous levels. First, all the actors are undergraduates who clearly would look too young to be middle aged, but more importantly, the masks give them a cold, impersonal, expressionless persona. The masks also symbolize the psychological masks behind which the adults withhold truths from the teenagers, and ultimately from themselves.
Ali Perlwitz perfectly embodies the naïve, sheltered 14-year-old Wendla Bergmann, dressed in Alice-in-Wonderland pinafores, who is spoiled and both over- and under-protected by her Victorian mother, played with complexity by Brittany Bandani.
Christine Cirillo's costumes beautifully emphasize the surrealistic Victorian mood. Outstanding is the wildly imaginative peek-a-boo hoop skirt worn by Melchior Gabor's mother, played with passion and intelligence by Anastasia Brewczynski.
The Spring Awakening solid wooden set designed by Rachel Levey is both simple and complex, with surprising and effective use of the deep stage, visually complimenting the play with further layers of complexity and depth.
The 14-year-old boys in the play are under tremendous pressure to succeed in school. Melchior is played with teenage rage and grief by Joe Cisternelli. His best friend is the failing student Moritz Stiefel, played with tormented strife by Daniel Seigerman.
The visual at the end of Spring Awakening when Moritz speaks with Melchior is an image not easy to forget and is black humor at its best.
Noah Weintraub is alternately touching as the young homosexual Hansy Rilow, and harrowing as Headmaster Hart-Payne. In fact, the only truly loving and honest relationship is a gay love affair with Ernst Robel, well-played by Seth Koproski.
Melissa Kaufmann plays the promiscuous childhood friend of Moritz, Ilse, with perky grace. She also portrays the kooky cartoonish Reverend Bleekhead.
It's a shame not to be able to mention every actor, because they were each terrific, no matter which part they played, and many played multiple roles.
Spring Awakening is a controversial, brilliant, satirically poetic play about adult hypocrisy and teenage tragedy and has been made into an award-winning musical by the same name, which is running on Broadway.
Spring Awakening is honest, sensitively acted and directed, and truly a play worth experiencing.