My very first post on The Juggler was on the musical Spring Awakening. It was Beltane, and the unabashedly sexual nature of the show was very appropriate. So was its message about the dangers of not teaching healthy sexuality to our children. One of the difficulties with the show, however, is that is so easy to focus on the sex when there is much more to the show. This deeper interpretation is where the new production at Mysterium Theater really shines.
Yes, the show still includes in-your-face sexuality that would shock many. Yes, it’s still about a budding teenage sex drive conflicting with strict and oppressively naïve Church doctrine. Yes, it still contains frank depictions of intercourse, masturbation, BDSM, atheism, child molestation, abuse, addiction, and suicide. But Mysterium’s production uses those things as a backdrop to the greater story of innocence lost and regained, stressing that the shadows of childhood do shape us, but we are in control of what they make of us.
We all have shadows. Spring Awakening takes us deep into the shadows of a group of schoolchildren to remind us how difficult it is to be a teenager. The differences in how each child handles “The Dark they Know Well” makes up the story and teaches us that we can rise above our past despite how difficult it seems.
Taking the lead in this are the three central characters of Melchior (Drew Olvey), Wendla (Taylor Courtney), and Moritz (Lance Smith). All three in incredibly honest actors who choose to touch the hearts of their audience with sincere emotions ranging from confusion to lust to rage, all of which feel perfectly natural from each of them. Olvey’s Melchior is less of an angry intellectual than usual. His portrayal stresses the young man’s fascination with all there is to learn about the world around him, the “hunger that a child feels for everything they’re shown.” When his ideals and school rules come in conflict, the tragedy on his innocent face is quite touching.
Courtney’s Wendla is similar, matching Melchior’s youthful innocence note for note, but without his intellect to buffer her. This is a pure, emotional Wendla, and Courtney’s beautiful voice brings a very loving touch. Smith brings notes of true desperation to Moritz, the saddest character in the play. As confusion leads to panic, Smith ushers Moritz through his tragic arc, letting us inside his heart with each step. The last strains of his “And Then There Were None” are truly haunting.
Aaron Lyons is excellent, devious, and full of hubris as the seductive schoolboy Hanschen. Where his classmates stammer, Lyons radiates Hancshen’s strength and confidence in a wonderfully sensual way that whispers, “Why wouldn’t you want to fuck me?” The rest of the cast does a great job hitting those notes of youth and inexperience. Ashley Nelson’s disturbed Martha and Kallie Downing’s lost-looking Ilse remind us what happen when parenthood goes wrong. The two adults do well in their multiple roles, particularly Sam Kostka who, while young for the role, deftly provides strong distinctions among his many characters.
Spring Awakening, especially this production, is about Melchior’s journey. Along the way he creates shadows. His actions, sometimes loving and sometimes rash, have horrible consequences that even his impressive mind could never have foreseen. At this point he can give in to the darkness and become another casualty of childhood, another bright mind destroyed by the school system, or he use that mind and his heart to learn, grow, and perhaps make change in the world. The true lesson of Spring Awakening comes from his choice.
Many in our community actively search for our shadow instead of running from it. When we find it, we can learn from it. We learn how it shapes our lives. We learn how to identify when it is controlling us. Melchior is forced to do the same, to be defeated or empowered by the demons of childhood. Like him, our decisions can drag us down into the colorless darkness or up into the light of Purple Summer.