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Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Tri-M Productions/NM Actors Lab

More Relevant Now Than Ever Before

Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Tri-M Productions/NM Actors Lab

In her Director's note, Marilyn Barnes says, "Spring Awakening is a show that pulls no punches. These German teenagers in the 1890's struggle through abortion, suicide and exploring their sexuality. We felt that this musical gives a voice to these teens and to teens in our present day who face the same hardships. As our society again tries to take away the rights of women and LGBTQIA people, we felt this piece was even more important."

This show was all the more relevant to see on the night that Roe v. Wade was overturned. The day's events certainly brought more weight and meaning to the entire production. Based on the 1891 play of the same name by Frank Wedekind, it tells the story of a group of teens growing up in a sheltered Lutheran society in Germany. They are expected to be modest, studious, obedient and, for the most part, seen and not heard by the strict and judgmental adults (all of the adults were played with aplomb by Kathleen Keener and John Reiser). The themes of teen angst, frustration and longing weave throughout the show as the characters grapple with failing grades, attraction to the opposite sex, attraction to the same sex, masturbation, violence, suicide and abortion.

The boys, led by independent thinker Melchior, grapple with their budding sexuality and a strict moral code they are expected to uphold. Melchior questions authority and why modesty and obedience seems to be valued over happiness, imagination and living a fulfilling life. Melchior's friend Moritz concurs but still lacks the knowledge his friend possesses, as well as the confidence to fully rebel against societal norms. The first big, rollicking number, "The Bitch of Living," is where the boys express their frustrations.

Meanwhile, the girls are coming to terms with their place in society. Wendla begs her mother to tell her about where babies come from, stating that surely her mother doesn't think she still believes in the stork. Her mother does not answer her question. Martha and Ilse are being abused by men in their families, as explained in their powerful, chilling rendition of "The Dark I Know Well."

When Melchior and Wendla meet, there is an immediate attraction, with Wendla asking Melchior to hit her with a switch, just to allow her to "feel something." They eventually give in to their desire and begin a sexual relationship; Melchior knows the consequences of this behavior, but Wendla is still in the dark.

Meanwhile, Mortiz fails out of school and is terrified of being cast out by his parents. When he meets Ilse, another teen who has been cast out, she tries to convince him that life is not all that bad outside of their community, he refuses to believe it and explains how he cannot live this way in "I Don't Do Sadness." Moritz soon takes his own life.

After the funeral, Melchior stands accused of writing an inflammatory piece on sex that he shared with Moritz prior to his death. Melchior is expelled from school and sent to a reformatory. While he is away, Wendla learns that she is pregnant, and is finally told HOW that came to be. Her mother, mortified at the thought of having an illegitimate birth under her roof, sends Wendla to an abortionist, where Wendla dies.

Melchior, unaware of her death, is hopeful that when he returns they will have a secret meeting in the graveyard. As he sings "Those You've Known" at the grave of Moritz, he sees a newly dug grave, and learns of Wendla's death. The ghosts of Moritz and Wendla join him in song.

The combination of Duncan Sheik's hypnotic music and Steven Sater's powerful book and lyrics create an interesting juxtaposition to the puritanical and antiquated way of life. The contrast of the strong rock score with the chaste costuming and dialogue makes the piece strong and truly one of a kind.

Tri-M has taken a big step in its evolution as a company. Kudos to them for employing an Intimacy Coordinator, something the original Broadway cast did not have (shockingly). The love scenes between Melchior and Wendla, as well as the song "The Word of Your Body" with Hanschen and Ernst were both sensitive and well-choreographed.

The entire cast remained engaged and in each moment of the show. I am sure some of the lags between scenes will tighten up as the run progresses. Standout performances from Ian Noble as Melchior (like literally channeling Jonathan Groff at moments), Caiti Lord as Ilse and Carlos Vazquez Baur as Moritz.

As Tri-M grows, so does the number of people wanting to be in their productions. I advise the company to be sensitive to this, but to also be careful with how many people are cast in each show. As with the past two Tri-M productions, this show could have had six less people onstage and the same effect would have been achieved.

The lighting and minimalist set added to the haunting quality of the piece; Tech/Lighting Director Sarah LeBlanc made the most of this space. The orchestra, led by Kathlene Ritch, was exceptional as well.

To end with another wise quote from Marilyn Barnes: "We think our production of Spring Awakening sends a message that whatever you are going through, wherever you are, whoever you love, it's okay. And that message is so crucial to developing teenagers. We perform this show because our youth need a voice. We perform it because sexual abuse and suicide should not be swept under the rug. We perform Spring Awakening because it's important."

Spring Awakening is playing at New Mexico Actors Lab, 1213 Fairway, Santa Fe, now through July 3. Performances are Friday at 7PM, Saturday at 2PM and 7PM and Sunday at 3PM. Tickets can be purchased at the Tri-M Website:®id=109&

From This Author - Jackie Camborde

Jackie Camborde, Santa Fe, NM: Jackie has spent the majority of her career in the arts, mostly in fundraising and marketing. She is Director of Development for El Rancho de las Golondrinas, New Mexico's... (read more about this author)

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