Review: AWAKENING OF SPRING at Reverie Theatre Group

New theatre troupe offers an affecting, finely tuned production

By: May. 31, 2024
Review: AWAKENING OF SPRING at Reverie Theatre Group
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For its first show in Rhode Island, the Reverie Theatre Group offers a superb — and sadly short — run of Frank Wedekind's challenging 1891 drama The Awakening of Spring. With a fine ensemble cast, thoughtful directorial choices, and intense in-the-round staging, this is an outstanding debut production that deserves to be seen.

Wedekind's play — in the original German, Frülings Erwachen, translated by Francis Ziegler — is subtitled "A tragedy of childhood" for its frank depiction of the problems teenagers faced at the close of the 19th century. That frankness often caused past productions of the play to be censored; we'd like to think our age is more enlightened. And yet, the violence, sexual repression, self harm, and erasure dealt with in the play have a strikingly modern feel, so much so that audiences may be familiar with the show's musical incarnation, the multiple Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening.

The play follows a group of teenagers: young men with vivid fantasies living in fear of their exacting schoolmasters and young women whose parents are intent on preserving their innocence. Darby Wilson is outstanding as Wendla, whose mother can't quite bring herself to explain the facts of life, with predictable consequences. Wilson's alert, puzzled characterization is heartbreaking. She has a fling in a hayloft with Melchior (Aidan Costa), a jaded, worldly wise student all too willing to take advantage of her naivete. Costa is picture-perfect as a self-absorbed intellectual while managing to maintain our pity as the consequences of his actions unspool. Arguably the most tragic of the teens, Moritz, is played with great sensitivity by Adam Preston. Preston has a raw honesty that deftly captures a teen being crushed by parental expectations and baffled by his discovery of "manhood's emotion."

Alyssa Germaine provides a delightful counterpoint as the bohemian Ilse. Courtney Satterley has some outstanding moments of grit and pathos as Melchior's mother. Michael Eckenreiter has a standout monologue as Hans, surveying his collection of erotic images. And his gay kiss with Ernest (a vulnerable, sensitive turn by Emily MacLean) is another standout moment. The whole ensemble is uniformly excellent, sometimes as teens, sometimes taking on the persona of stuffy teachers, but always with outstanding focus.

Much credit should go to director Lauren Katherine Pothier, who has a powerful overall vision for the show. The action all takes place in a strip along the center of the flat-floor black box of the Mathewson Street Church, with seating on both sides. The practical effect is that you are always seeing, just past the action, the rest of the audience. Pothier's direction is at once  naturalistic — avoiding the melodrama that the play could easily descend into — and highly theatrical. Her reworking of the final sequence turns the "masked man" of the original script into a compelling multi-voice ensemble piece that lands with devastating effect.

Technically, the show is simple but solid. Done with few props, straightforward lighting (Alexander Sprague), a few set pieces (Jeremy Drolet's multi-purpose central box is clever and economical), and unfussy but appropriate costumes by Pothier and Riley Nedder. 

For a show written more than a hundred years ago, this is — as cliched as it may sound — a painfully familiar and sad story, one that pulls no punches and spares no one. It's not for the faint of heart, as the multiple content warnings advise. But for those willing to take the journey, this cast and creative team offer a powerful opportunity to observe and reflect. As Moritz says, ruminating, late in Act II, "We can pity the young, who take their timidity for idealism, and the old, who break their hearts from stoical deliberation." Recommended.

The Awakening of Spring by Frank Wedekind, directed by Lauren Katherine Pothier. At Reverie Theatre Group, Mathewson Street Church, 134 Mathewson Street Providence, May 31, Jun 1, 7:30; matinees Jun 1,2 at 2pm. Tickets $15 (budget), $25 (general); sliding scale available by contacting Content warnings: child abuse, suicide, sexual assault, teen pregnancy, pornography, masturbation, death, abortion.

Photo: David Cantelli Photography


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