Inside the Newman Studio of the Walgreen Drama Center, two rows of actors wearing white face paint silently sat facing each other on either side of an empty black stage, while audience members filtered in. This was the student-run theatre organization Basement Arts’ “Spring Awakening,” the original play written by Frank Wedekind in 1906 from which the 2006 hit Broadway rock musical of the same name took inspiration. But the viewer experience was far from the same.

The play follows several interwoven stories of teenagers growing up in an oppressive provincial Germany in the late 1800s. They grapple with newfound and unexplained sexual desires, spar with their parents and face the crushing pressure to succeed in school, all while struggling with their new identities as young adults. “Spring Awakening” is famous for dealing with teen sexuality, suicide and the dangers that institutionalized pressure and silence can have on young people.

To no fault of Basement Arts, the major downfall of this production was the writing. The language was archaic and at times incomprehensible. The play opened with a scene supposedly set in a schoolyard. However, as the actors played catch with a rubber ball, their antiquated dialogue was a harsh contrast to their childish demeanors. The overly complex and philosophical language continued to detract from the powerful story. The play was also two hours of non-stop darkly heavy content. While the ideas may be timeless, the show was too serious to sit through without any comedic relief, or, for that matter, an intermission.

Even with this controversial and slightly problematic script, the direction could have been what saved the show, but I did not find this to be the case. When delivering their lines, most of the actors employed the same strange mix of teen angst through a somewhat Shakespearian tone.

Even more unsettling was that, for the majority of the play, every line seemed to be screamed. For yelling to be at all effective, it needs to happen rarely. However, I found it hard to care more about a main character’s speech preceding his death than his woes regarding his class rank because both were delivered in the same tone and volume. Given the consistency in screaming across characters, it seems more plausible that this was a directing issue rather than a personal choice coincidentally made by almost the entire cast of drama students.

For a show that deals so heavily with female adolescence and female sexuality, I was surprised to learn that both directors were male. It was definitely interesting to watch the actors, both male and female, work through this material knowing it was both written and directed by men. While it’s admirable that these students desired to shed light on female issues, watching this raised the question of why we continue to perform and celebrate stories written about women by men, instead of bringing the opinions and perspectives of women themselves forward.

Despite the questionable directing, it was clear that the actors were well-trained drama students. Particularly successful was SMTD junior Emma Steiner as Wendla Bergmann. Steiner carefully and maturely executed the innocence and sincerity necessary for Wendla. She had clear intention behind her actions, as well as an understanding of both the language and the objectives of her character. Consequently, her scenes were some of the most enjoyable, as she was able to more explicitly convey the plot points and underlying emotions. SMTD junior Nathan Correll as Hansy/Mrs. Gabor also stood out because of the contrast in his portrayals of the overbearing, ultimately sympathetic Mrs. Gabor and the closeted gay schoolboy, Hansy. He was able to reach the audience because of the variation both between and within each of his performances, and he was exceptionally precise in his emotional delivery of each of his monologues.

Most importantly, audiences might be tired of shows that merely present how bad things were (or are). Its harmful to present themes of homophobia, sexism, suicide and rape to audiences if there is no new or insightful take on them. We know that things used to be and still are bad, and a lot of times this stems from deep-rooted societal issues. But what next? There needs to be an adequate justification to show these deeply personal topics in such a blunt and graphic way, and this play did not deliver this. Furthermore, to present these heavy and extremely relevant topics so inaccessibly borders on irresponsible.

In the end, the content and delivery left me wondering why Basement Arts chose this play. The reason why the 2006 musical adaptation was so successful was because it took a heavy yet important story and presented it appropriately for 21st century audiences. This return to the original play fell flat because neither the presentation nor the source material are relevant to modern viewers.

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